Not the Monthly Post

Against Enchantment 3: Jean Gebser

In the months just passed I’ve pursued an exploration of the myth of disenchantment—the notion that our civilization, for the first time in human history, has shaken off the comforting daydreams of myth and magic in order to see the universe in all its cold and uncaring reality.  So far, in the course of that exploration, we’ve heard from Max Weber, who gave the idea of disenchantment that convenient label; Jason Josephson-Storm, whose book a few years ago challenging Weber’s idea helped launch this discussion; Ken Wilber, the would-be prophet of integral consciousness; and Owen Barfield, whose philosophy of original and final participation gets to the same place as Wilber by a very different route.

Jean Gebser

The latter two writers, like Weber himself, did their level best to consign enchantment to the dustbin of the past. The writer at the heart of this week’s discussion, Jean Gebser, did the same thing. As we’ll see, he did it for many of the same reasons. Unlike Wilber, whose name was all over the intellectual end of the media in recent decades, and Barfield, who never achieved that level of fame but still has a significant cultural presence, Gebser receives little attention today outside certain very rarefied intellectual circles.  That’s unfortunate but, as we’ll see, it’s also understandable, because Gebser took his theory just that little bit further than Wilber or Barfield, and the results—well, we’ll get to that.

Let’s start with a glimpse at the man himself. Born to a politically well-connected family in Posen, in what was then the German Empire and is now part of Poland, he spent time living in various corners of Europe, including a stint as an official in the Ministry of Education in Spain. In 1939, realizing what was about to happen to Europe, he had the great good sense to leave France for Switzerland, where he spent the rest of his life. It was during his Swiss years that he did most of his philosophical writing, and also became a published poet. His most important work, Ursprung und Gegenwart (available in English as The Ever-Present Origin), appeared in a series of editions from 1949 to 1953; he died in 1973.

His ideas, or at least the rough outline of them, will be instantly familiar to most readers who know their way around the cultural avant-garde of the last half-century or so.  He’s the thinker who came up with the idea, exploited six ways from Sunday by ideologues of countless varieties since his time, that human consciousness has evolved over historical time through a specific set of definable stages or structures. Each of these structures, he argued, is an improvement on the ones that came before it, and the turmoil of the present day represents the birth pangs of yet another structure, which will take up the good parts of our current structure of consciousness while leaving behind all of its problems and limitations.

Gebser’s influence is all through today’s avant-garde thought. This is one example of many.

He traced out five such structures in the history of human consciousness.  The first, the archaic structure, is the foundation from which all other structures arise, and was surpassed so long ago that it can only be guessed at today from traces in later structures  It was a condition in which human consciousness was completely merged with the environment and experienced no separation at all between the self and the world. It is symbolically zero-dimensional.

The second, the magical structure, represents the first and most primitive distinction between the self and the world. Within the magical structure, the human individual can listen to the voice of the world—this expresses itself in later times as divination—and can act on the world by the use of representations—this expresses itself in later times as magic. In this structure, there is no distinction between the symbol and the thing it symbolizes, the word and the thing it denotes, and to act on one is to act on the other.  It is symbolically one-dimensional, and may be represented by the point.

The third, the mythical structure, emerges from the magical structure once human beings begin to notice the rhythmic repetition of events in their environment and experiences in themselves. In this stage the universe is experienced as a collection of persons, which can be best described and explained by way of stories. Names and words in this structure have a polarized quality that makes them endlessly confusing for people in our more advanced structure:  in the mythical structure, every concept includes its opposite. This is logically impossible, but logic hasn’t yet been born in the mythical structure. It is symbolically two-dimensional, and may be represented by the circle.

The fourth, the mental structure, is the structure in which we (however this slippery word “we” is defined) currently function. It emerged from the mythical structure once the sides of each polarity were broken apart into distinct concepts by the use of logic.  In this way words, which were instruments of power in the magical structure and complex constellations of meaning in the mythical structure, became simple formulae with meanings that could be defined exactly. It is symbolically three-dimensional, but its representation for Gebser was confusingly enough not the sphere but the triangle.

Worth reading, despite certain issues we’ll get to.

Each of these structures of consciousness has what Gebser called an efficient and a deficient form:  that is to say, an earlier form which works well and a later form which doesn’t. Europe in Gebser’s time was stuck in the deficient form of the mental structure, which he also called the rational structure. This is most clearly seen whenever somebody from that period uttered the phrase “nothing but.”  The universe is nothing but dead matter and energy, the psyche is nothing but the activities of the brain, love is nothing but hormones—the list goes on and on, showing the mental structure in its final, terminal period.

This is not the end of the story, however, because the central theme of Gebser’s book was to proclaim the imminent appearance of a new structure of consciousness, the integral structure. This structure synthesizes all the previous structures, permitting all the benefits of the mental structure to be preserved while enriching it with the good parts of the mythical, magical, and archaic structures. Gebser argued that an essential characteristic of the integral structure was “transparency”—a state in which everything is itself but also allows a view of the whole. Thus the whole history of humanity becomes visible through each moment: the origin is ever present.

Gebser warned that the movement from one structure of consciousness to another must not be seen as a matter of evolution or progress. In his view, the emergence of each structure is a disruptive process, a discontinuity of history. He rejected the idea that there was any teleology in the sequence of structures:  that is, the notion of a linear development from the archaic structure through intermediate stages to the integral structure was one he explicitly denied. (This is one of the most important ways that Ken Wilber, who claimed to be including Gebser’s insights in his own synthesis, misunderstood or misstated Gebser’s ideas.)

So why was Gebser so confident that the integral structure was busting out all over, like June in the song from the musical Carousel?  That’s the theme of the second half of The Ever-Present Origin.  He argued that avant-garde trends in every aspect of European culture, from painting and poetry to physics and philosophy, only made sense if they were seen as harbingers of the new integral consciousness. The transformation of art from the representation of three-dimensional visional experiences to complex images that fused space and time—Duchamp’s famous Nude Descending a Staircase is a fine example—showed, in Gebser’s view, the transparency that was a central aspect of the integral experience.  The question he offered his readers was simply whether they were satisfied with the smoldering mess of 20th century Europe or were willing to make the effort to embrace the new structure of consciousness, pass through the resulting discontinuity, and enter an exciting new world.

Nude Descending a Staircase by Marcel Duchamp. Critics at the time called it “Staircase Descending a Nude.”

This outline is little more than a rough sketch of an extraordinarily rich and complex vision of human history, and it doesn’t even hint at the vivid portraits Gebser paints of the structures of consciousness and the transitions between them.  One deservedly famous passage early on in The Ever-Present Origin describes a crucial marker in the rise of modern Western consciousness—the ascent of Mont Ventoux in southern France in 1336 by the great Italian Renaissance poet and writer Petrarch. As far as written records indicate, this is the first time anyone ever climbed a mountain just for the sake of the view. Petrarch’s description of his adventure, and the troubling emotions it unleashed in him, becomes the basis for a profound and insightful discussion of the birth of perspective in Western art, and from there to the unfolding of modern consciousness.

The same vivid style and keen insight appears in many other places in Gebser’s writing. The Ever-Present Origin is a book worth reading, and in many places worth savoring.  At the same time, it has its problems. One of them—the mismatch between theory and the evidence of history mentioned in a previous post—is so pervasive, and so important, that it needs a post of its own.  Three others more specific to Gebser deserve close attention here.

The first is the strong flavor of partisanship—one could even call it cheerleading—that runs all through the book. This has a weirdly bipolar nature to it. At some points in the book, Gebser presented the emergence of the integral structure of consciousness as an inevitable event that could be awaited with calm confidence. At other points, it is a luminous hope he called on his readers to strive toward with all their efforts.  His thinking may not have been teleological in the strict sense—that is, he admitted that the great leap forward to the integral structure might fail—but the available options all fall along a rigidly linear scheme in which forward movement was the only positive option and the greatest sin was that of falling back into previous structures, a sin for which he denounces the occultists of his time in heated language.

The Chinese got there long before Leonardo — a detail of which Gebser was completely unaware.

The difficulty here is simply that analysis and advocacy make poor bedfellows. Gebser’s take on the cultural, artistic, and scientific movements of his time suffers from his attempt to present as much of them as he possibly can as harbingers of the coming integral structure, and to denounce the rest as the work of backsliders who aren’t answering the call to commit themselves to the glorious consciousness of the future. If this sounds like Marxist rhetoric, it should; Gebser was emphatically not a Marxist, but the language in which he makes his case has been influenced powerfully by the the pervasive Marxist attitudes of his time, to its detriment.  He would be more convincing if he was less obviously trying to convince.

The second problem with The Ever-Present Origin is the same pervasive Eurocentrism I critiqued in Owen Barfield’s work. To Gebser, the mentalities of all human societies outside Europe are shoehorned en masse into his mythical and magical structures—tribal peoples are lumped together into the latter, urban societies into the former, with no apparent awareness of the possibility that this might involve overgeneralizations. To Gebser, the only history that matters since the rise of ancient Egypt took place in Europe starting in the Middle Ages, with a little foreshadowing in Greece and Rome.  His brilliant discussion of the rise of linear perspective in Renaissance Europe is unburdened by any sense that the artistic traditions of other cultures might have dealt with space in other ways, and he apparently did not know that atmospheric perspective—the great achievement of Leonardo da Vinci in painting, on which Gebser places a great deal of emphasis—was basic to Chinese painting long before Leonardo was born.

A street in Tokyo: not exactly a hotbed of the archaic structure of consciousness.

His lack of knowledge about cultures outside Europe occasionally landed him in embarrassing missteps. He noted, for example, that according to German Sinologist Richard Wilhelm, ancient Chinese didn’t differentiate between blue and green:  the same word was used for each. From this linguistic detail Gebser drew a series of sweeping conclusions about the archaic structure of consciousness, but he apparently never thought to ask whether this same feature occurs in other languages, in Asia or elsewhere. As it happens, it does—it’s the case in modern Japanese, for example—and that fact undercuts a crucial part of Gebser’s argument. It seems never to have occurred to him that the color terms shared by European languages are a set of closely related linguistic phenomena, not universal human categories of perception.

The third problem with Gebser’s work is simpler but far more serious than the first two just noted. It’s the simple fact that his confidence in the imminent arrival of the integral structure turned out to be misplaced.  The social, artistic, and scientific phenomena he identified as symptoms of its emergence proved to be transitory cultural and intellectual fashions. The transparent fusion of space and time in cubist art, for example, soon gave way to the opaque two-dimensional surfaces of abstract expressionism, then to the sterile academicism that pervades the art world today, and finally to the resurgence of classic representational painting and sculpture picking up strength on the cultural fringes right now. Other examples could be listed by the score.

It’s always a risky thing to try to interpret the phenomena of the present as guides to the future. It’s especially risky if you want to claim that what’s about to happen has never happened before, and represents a breakthrough into a wholly new condition of human consciousness, after which nothing will ever be the same again. That’s a risk Gebser was prepared to take. His upbringing and education gave him a painfully clear view of Europe’s twentieth century agonies, and he knew perfectly well that none of the available options—plutocratic capitalism disguised as democracy, state capitalism disguised as socialism, or the uneasy fusion of the two that rose and fell under the banner of fascism—could respond effectively to the crisis of the European-centered world order. That’s why he placed his hopes on a leap to a previously unreached condition of consciousness that would resolve the contradictions none of the other options could.

A street in Frankfurt: not exactly a hotbed of the integral structure of consciousness, for that matter.

The dream of some such great leap to Utopia was widespread in Europe and the European diaspora all through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, though Gebser was as far as I know the first to frame it in terms of changes in the structure of consciousness. Karl Marx was responsible for the most influential of those dreams, rooted in the conviction that changing the ownership of the modes of production would be enough all by itself to make human beings behave like angels. Religious versions of that claim had been in circulation since the high Middle Ages, when Joachim of Fiore set things in motion with his prediction of the imminent Age of the Holy Spirit; Charles Fourier, whose giddy dreams of lemonade oceans and vegetarian anti-lions were discussed in a post here a few years back, played a crucial role in reformulating those same visions in secular terms—but neither Joachim nor Fourier appear in the index of Gebser’s book. He might have done better to have studied them and learned from their mistakes.

All this, finally, has certain useful lessons to offer our inquiry into the nature and history of enchantment. One of the basic themes of Gebser’s system is that enchantment in every sense belongs to an outmoded way of thought.  In theory, all previous structures of consciousness are taken up and integrated into each new structure as it comes along. In practice, however, Gebser himself angrily dismissed the ideas of the occultists of his time, insisting that they were throwbacks to a dilapidated structure of consciousness.

Ken Wilber and Owen Barfield made similar claims in their own interpretations of the unfolding of consciousness in historical time. All three of these thinkers defined the development of human consciousness in linear terms. Each presented a one-track model in which human beings started out in a state of consciousness appropriate to primitive ignorance, ascended step by step to our present inadequate but vastly superior state of consciousness, and could be expected to keep going further along the same rigidly defined trajectory to a state of even higher consciousness. Even Gebser, who insisted that terms such as “progress” could not be used to describe the history of consciousness, behaved in practice as though integral consciousness was a goal toward which humanity could progress, while the mythical and magical structures were outworn and outmoded, suitable only for “primitive” peoples left behind on the grand march upwards.

The same dreary mythology, endlessly rehashed.

That is to say, all three of them took the modern myth of progress and rewrote it in the language of the philosophy of consciousness.

That choice of strategy offers us an unexpected option, however.  If in fact the unfolding of consciousness over the five thousand years or so of recorded human history follows a linear trajectory, that fact should be relatively easy to trace in the writings of the world’s literate cultures. If the trajectory shown in those writings, and other cultural phenomena, shows some different track, that will also be worth examining. Two weeks from now, we can take a look at the evidence and see where it leads.


  1. Hello JMG, thank you for writing about Jean Gebser, a thinker who I didn’t know until today…despite I’ve went to the university some years ago. Ahem ahem.

  2. The theme in the past few points of eurocentrism and in general, believing this must be the most advanced period because it is now and far along in linear time I can see as making sense to those writing this, even with the obvious pitfalls to some eastern insights from thousands of years ago.

    An area I’ve found fascinating as of late is digging into the technical complexity of some of humanities archaeological wonders, which demonstrate at the very least that people were much more technologically advanced than we might think to be able to create very complex and precise structures on wide scales.

    There is I think a temptation to always map things out linearly or at least in a logical path, when in reality it seems much more like a jumbled mess of gain, loss, progression, regression, etc.

  3. A first observation: The line, the circle, and perhaps, the spiral:

    It strikes me as ironic that people such as Gebser and Wilber have these elaborate and complex linear ideas of an external structure to history that rival the elaborate and complex circular ideas of the eternal return, put forth by earlier people (and later Nietzsche). Without having brushed up on the subject of eternal return, it would seem to me that there is a difference between a cyclical form of circular time (as in the neopagan movements 4 or 8-fold calendrics), yet where history itself does not repeat. This would seem more spiral like.

    It seems that another way to look at time might be as a spiral. I’m not sure if any philosophers, physicists, or other thinkers and intellectuals, or occultists have put forth theories on a spiral way of viewing time.

  4. If there is a resurgence of classic representational painting and sculpture taking place now on the cultural fringes, that is good news indeed. Where is this happening? Can we hope for a revival of the art of telling stories in literature any time soon?

  5. Thanks John, fascinating discussion!

    Something that pops up when I read about these thinkers is that in their strident disavowal of ancient myths they simply re-work them to suit their current concerns. For example, the idea of “Progress” leading to some glorious future is nothing more than a re-interpretation of the old Christian myth of the Second Coming followed by the direct rule of the Almighty and the return to a perfect world of the original creation.

    The recycling of old ideas is interesting for many reasons, not least because those advocating the new dispensation are often blissfully unaware of the mythic roots of their program.

    C. G. Jung’s theory of archetypes may be the best explanation why, perhaps, there really is nothing new under the Sun.

  6. Thanks again for this. Always good stuff.

    I find it interesting (like god is sending a message) that as I am currently reading a long series of sermons by Theodore Parker. I easily connect and link, directly! from his words in different sermons, through Paul to Qabalah (Jewish Mysticism) to Levi. Directly! (When I do a search for something he is talking about back in 1840 or so and it ends up linking directly to one of the topics you discuss.) And Parker is talking about the underlying, eternal, infinite truth and god. While he does talk about “progress” he says that truth and god are infinite and eternal and that finding god (“Truth”) is the most important thing. It is what gives us strength and intellect, compassion, love! And “true” piety in our daily lives gives us the only true reward. Truth is it’s own reward. So, if you are getting a grant then it ain’t real science anymore….(He actually says basically that…)

    He does say that piety makes a natural progression from things we practice in childhood to things or forms we practice as “men”, and that the religions of the world are constantly only giving the basic, child friendly, immature piety. And, by doing so, it is like constantly teaching that 2+2=4 without ever advancing to algebra or some “higher” form of piety. And that they are really only teaching that 2+2=5! Or 2+2=9! So they are a hindrence on the whole to faith and piety.

    And, that constantly concentrating on the negative aspects of people (sins, etc.) will not advance individuals, or society as a whole, beyond the most basic piety. And, finally, that they attack any and all attempts to advance piety for selfish and material reasons, even within the various religions of the world, as we can see clearly continuing to this day. (Should I mention, just as an example, the pedophiles in the pulpit? Of course, that is just the tip of the ice berg.)

    And how the religions of the world, including those represented by Gebser and the others you are presenting (in the form of psychology? Science?), are really just “untruths” and they are just attacks on the truth. A lie is a lie and the truth is the truth. Always and eternally.



  7. Also, this was in the next paragraph in the sermon I’m reading currently:

    “I do not think that God loves the men or the na- tions He visits with this lofty destiny better than He loves other ruder tribes or ruder men.”

    Parker is saying that truth is everywhere in all mankind. Of course, he uses the words of the 1840s….. And it kinda looks like he is saying that it is destiny, but he is actually saying that this truth is everywhere and eternal.

    This is exactly what you are presenting here. That it is not a progression of humanity “forward”, but a constant yearning among all mankind for God and truth. And this truth and god are infinite and eternal.


  8. I’ve struggled with Gebser’s big book. I was unable to get through it. Part of the problem was that I found his categories to seem quite arbitrary, not at all compelling.

    I’m quite curious about the “certain very rarefied intellectual circles” that you mentioned. Could you elaborate? The only other person I’ve known who had read Gebser’s book was quite a senior person in that secretive and hierarchical “fourth way” group that I have mentioned before. (I got a nice peak at her library in the process of helping her pack for a move.)

    And finally, I have ant lions in my backyard. They trap and eat ants. But I have yet to come across an anti-lion.

  9. Many thanks to JMG for reading and analyzing this dreary nonsense, so we don’t need to!….It all reminds me of Noam Chomsky inventing a “speech module” in the brain to explain the rise of speech in hominids…Evolution doesn’t work like that…

  10. Chuaquin, I didn’t hear about him in university either! One of the unmentionable secrets of current intellectual culture is that everyone pretends to forget about would-be prophets in the intelligentsia who turned out to be dead wrong, and Gebser was one of those.

    Ynu8ipbnxu, exactly. The linear pseudohistory of the myth of progress is an ideological construct, meant to privilege European civilization as the supposed best thing ever (and therefore to justify the last five centuries of Europe’s plundering the rest of the planet, and continuing moves in that direction). Real history is much more complex, much more interesting, and much less comforting to those who like to think that those who are currently at the top of the heap will stay there forever.

    Justin, the funny thing is that many Wilberesque types insist that they’re thinking in spirals — thus the name of one of the systems Wilber borrowed ideas from, Spiral Dynamics. It’s one of many gimmicks used to evade the awkward realities of history.

    Mary, there are little ateliers springing up here and there all over the place. Check out Grand Central Atelier as a fine example. This is the kind of drawing they’re teaching in their first year program:

    Raymond, excellent! Yes, exactly — it’s all mythology with the serial numbers filed off. That’s always the case with the products of each civilization’s age of reason, because the rational mind can’t create — it can only rehash and revise.

    Orion, hmm! I haven’t read Parker, but he sounds worth the time.

    Justin, no doubt. 😉

    Phutatorius, I’ve encountered intellectual circles of the “Ken Wilber isn’t recherché enough for us” variety that are into Gebser; I haven’t encountered it yet in a Fourth Way context, though, so thank you for the data point. As for anti-lions, no, and you never will, either.

    Chuaquin, in a certain sense, yes — the “Indigo Children” business relates to Wilber and Gebser the way the Loony Tunes episode “What’s Opera, Doc?” relates to Richard Wagner’s operas…

    …it’s what happened when a bunch of New Age parents convinced themselves that their little darlings had to be even more specially special than anyone else’s children.

    Pyrrhus, I long since gave up wondering why anybody pays the least attention to Chomsky. His theories about linguistics are the kind of complete crap that could only be believed by someone who’s never studied a non-Indo-European language.

  11. I am really appreciating your latest thread on enchantment. Consciousness is, to my mind, the most interesting of all perceptible phenomena. Many thanks for bringing these lesser known writers on the topic to our attention! I will look for Gebser’s book!

    The “daily evolver” example you gave early in the essay was interesting as it seemed like it was actually a circular rather than linear series of changes in thinking. Specifically the “archaic” & “indigenous” world views (at the bottom of the list) seem essentially the same as the “integral” & “post integral” categories (at the top of the list).

    Does Gebser consider any possibility of circular motion through these states of consciousness? I’ve frequently thought that it is somewhat possible to reconcile linear and circular motion by conceiving of the path (or evolution) of individuals through consciousness as a helix. This still has the experience of consciousness as linear but the ‘line’ isn’t straight but rather circling and ascending or descending. I have an image of an energy wave passing along a Slinky… (

    I also like the aspect of this image that helps explain my lived experience of dealing with a certain type of issue, seemingly resolving it or at least living through it, only to find myself dealing with different (usually more subtle/deeper) aspects of the same issue 20+ years later. I now see this as passing through Zones in the cylinder formed by the helical path. I tend to ‘see’ things in my head in 3 dimensions and the Slinky metaphor has helped me to visualize a surprisingly wide variety of abstract theories.

  12. It’s interesting that Gebser lived in Switzerland around the same time Jung was active. I wonder if he ever attended Jung’s lectures.

    I’m struck by how Gebser skipped the sphere and went with a triangle to stand for the mental level, when he should have logically picked the three-dimensional sphere. Maybe if he had hung out with Jung he wouldn’t have made this choice. It may explain why Gebser got stuck in a linear framework in his theory.

    Jung believed the evolution of consciousness was a process of circumambulation, and he emphasized the phenomenon of enantiodromia – a continual shifting of polarities moving toward greater wholeness. He also spoke about going back to more archaic (what he called primitive) levels, into the unconscious, to retrieve essential elements that had been forgotten, bringing them up/forward to be integrated into present consciousness. Jung saw no reason to exclude the non-rational realms of emotion, magic, and imagination from his concept of psychological wholeness. He was also well aware of Eastern philosophy, religion, art and mythology, which rounded out his ideas on Western psychology, which he saw as fundamentally different.

    I especially appreciated your example of Chinese painting to illustrate their skillful representation of perspective centuries before it showed up in Western art.

    Even 15,000 year-old cave paintings of animals show an astonishing awareness of, and ability to portray, movement in space.

  13. He seems to have overlooked the pyrotechnical structure. When humans discovered they could burn stuff, they came to believe the universe would one day be their oyster.

  14. I do so appreciate when you begin to write on some topic or idea that I have not yet encountered in my random path of discovery through the world.
    Anyone in computers in the 90s and 00s would be cognizant of Kurzweil et al. with their breathlessly expected ‘singularity’ that bears a strong resemblance to a purely intellectual version of the acceleration scene in the last part of ‘2001 – A Space Odyssey’. I get the feeling this topic is closely related, but that’s as close as I’ve come before now.
    Thanks for this guided tour of some new (to me) ideas.

  15. “Pyrrhus, I long since gave up wondering why anybody pays the least attention to Chomsky. His theories about linguistics are the kind of complete crap that could only be believed by someone who’s never studied a non-Indo-European language.”

    One of my professors liked to point out that his theories don’t even work for such an exotic language as French, which does not exactly inspire confidence in anything the man has to say….

  16. OT: …. extremely OT:….but…FYI.

    Ignore the line below; the teaser was more accurate. It read “Preppers, techies, hippies, and yuppies are converging on the American West, the safest place….” and the article itself started talking about “the dissident right” – i.e. diverging from the Establishment Right. Plenty of populism. But, yes, a lot of “We’re mad as Hades and aren’t gonna take it any more.”

  17. In part I don’t blame them, because they come from a part of Europe that was quite isolated from the rest of the world compared to the maritime powers, but boy these German thinkers and their European blinkers. They are just western priests in rational drag.

    I think it’s probably hard for us now to comprehend how difficult it was to see from another cultural perspective before the modern ultra-cosmopolitanism of the Anglosphere, but it’s not like Gebser didn’t have access in the mid 20th century to great works from other cultures or histories of said cultures.

    If only they had prefaced their work with something like ‘this only applies to western culture’, but this would go against the biases of western culture itself, whose ideas and themes must apply to all ‘mankind’ at all times. Even Jung was guilty of this.

    Such hilarious hubris.

  18. Kind Sir,

    I had heard of Gebser before, but never read any of his books. I shall remedy that with all the recommended caveats.
    Looking at his consciousness progression table, I can find bits of myself on pretty much all levels.
    Infrared until after breakfast. On a good day.
    After that I draw from the other modes as the external situation and the inner demons demand.
    Except for indigo. Nobody has ever accused me of saintliness or wisdom.

  19. His periodization strikes me as vaguely Theosophical, although Blavatsky taught that we’re now at the end of the fifth root race, not the end of the fourth.

  20. Ken, Gebser flatly denies a circular movement in consciousness — it’s one of the places where his ideas fall flat. As for Slinkies, er, I played with those when I was a child; they were common toys in that long-vanished era. I used to be fairly good at making one walk down a stair:

    Goldenhawk, Jung took the step that Gebser was never willing to take, and recognized the cyclical nature of the historical process; we’ll be getting to him as this discussion proceeds. As for those cave paintings, I’ve become convinced that those only make sense as the mature form of an artistic tradition that was many thousands of years old before the caves became sacred shrines; doubtless earlier artworks were on more perishable materials.

    Wqjcv, one could have quite a bit of fun coming up with additional structures of consciousness; I recall the parodist who made fun of Freud by inserting a nasal phase of libidinal development, somewhere between the oral and the genital phase — it’s typified by wanting to stick your nose into other people’s business, and so on.

    Renaissance, one of these days I probably need to hold my nose and read some Kurzweil. It’s warmed-over fundamentalist Christianity, with technology as Christ and the immortal robot bodies of the ubergeek in place of the glorified resurrection bodies of the elect, so it’s not as though it’s unfamiliar.

    Anonymous, ha! That makes sense.

    Patricia M, yes, I read it! Interesting times.

    Atlantean, oh, I know. It’s hard for us even to imagine these days just how fantastically Eurocentric intellectuals in Europe were before two world wars knocked a little of the hubris out of them.

    DropBear, none of the people who brandish around these charts ever manage to exhibit much saintliness or wisdom either, so don’t feel bad. 😉

    Bei, hmm! That’s a very interesting point — not least because Theosophy also embraced a theory of evolution of consciousness. I wonder if Gebser surreptitiously borrowed the idea, or got it from someone who did.

  21. HI JMG,
    The Ancient Romans were also masters in painting in atmospheric perspective which is where Leonardo da Vinci probably learned it. There were still Roman era frescos about, painted in that style, that he would have studied.

  22. Once again, the connections with Parker!

    Theodore Parker’s theology was directly influencing on both William James and Jung. Of course Jung was a disciple of James as well.

    As mentioned, both James, and Jung, accept that there is something about “religion”, “god”, spirit or soul going on in all of us and that human psychology doesn’t work properly without it!

    Hard to reconcile our current psychology, as practiced, with what James (known as the father of American psychology no less!), and Jung were saying. And, of course, we don’t see, even in the Unitarian Universalist congregations, much of what Theodore Parker was teaching now either! Just a shadow of it…. (I will just say that “love”, while a part of God, is no substitute for the real thing!)

    I look forward to your Jung posts and William James as well!

    Please enjoy Venus and Jupiter as they come together right now in the evening sky!


  23. @Mary Bennett#4: I was very pleasantly surprised by Kazuo Ishigaru’s books, recommended to me by fellow commenter Thijs. So far I have read The buried giant and Klara and the Sun.

  24. had always thought that the Indigo Children label was a way that indulgent parents excused their childrens misbehavior, in practice that is what I observed at the time. Basically poor parenting, lack of structure or discipline. Excuse being that their special darling couldnt be expected to behave , be polite, follow any type of curiculumn even Waldorf ( especially a problem in Waldorf as Waldorf has a very definite way that it educates, form, curiculumn, etc… while the Indigo parents want their respective children to call the shots)because they were so … yeah, I guess specially special, that they are above it all and couldnt be expected to conform in any way. The descriptions in the books were so vague, that the parent would decide that it must apply to their child and offered away to be lazy and excuse other failings that would be much more logical. If they actually behaved as though their child was an individual they would need to do the work to actually observe their child and guide based on that reality, which of course would require time and work on the parents part.

  25. Some inchoate thoughts: This whole idea of enchantment is a pretty deep rabbit hole to me at the moment. Throw in disenchantment and consciousness and I guess that’s why you have to do multiple posts to cover it all.

    In a bit of personal synchronicity, last week on Magic Monday I asked why the old Latin mass of the Roman Catholic church is “more effective magic” than the new mass. The answer I got from you and others was way more information than I was expecting, and to be honest, quite confusing. (Probably because I was raised in the Protestant tradition and I don’t know all the Catholic ‘inside baseball’.)

    After I managed to wade through a few diatribes about why the new mass is “too Protestant”—and that’s why it’s utter crap (not a helpful explanation if you ask me)—what I took away was, in a word: enchantment.

    More accurately, I should say: a lack of enchantment. As it so happened, Rod Dreher, always his finger on the pulse (at least when it comes to my interests) turns out to be writing a book about this very topic right now. ( He mentioned so in his post on the recent Asbury revival. Link is here: )

    Synchronistically for me, Dreher stated “I have been frustrated that I don’t have nearly as many examples of enchantment in the Protestant tradition as within Orthodox and Catholicism.” And that’s when it clicked for me. When you boil it down, the difference is the old Latin mass maintained its enchantment, while the new one did away with it.

    I’m still ruminating on the implications of this idea. It made me think of the Protestant Reformation in a way I hadn’t before. It seems in one sense the Protestants, by insisting their theology must be able to be rationally explained, in effect “added the head” to the worship service, but in the process may have “removed the heart.”

    It reminds me of how you describe writer’s block. It’s difficult to keep both the rational and the “enchanted” (non-rational) sides of the mind turned on at the same time. It certainly seems impossible for human societies as a whole to do it.

    That right there just goes to show it makes no sense to say the rational mind supersedes the mythical or magical.

  26. “As far as written records indicate, this is the first time anyone ever climbed a mountain just for the sake of the view.”
    …I mean, given how many written records have been lost over the millennia and how many things almost certainly weren’t written down in the first place, it seems much more likely to me that that’s just the earliest account of it we happen to have, not that that was the first time in the entire history of humanity someone had done it. Humans, as far as we know, have been aesthetically appreciating things as long as they’ve been human, and it’s not like mountains and hills are rare globally.

  27. On indigo children”

    (1’36”) “The term has been around since the 1970s–coined by psychologist and medium Nancy Ann Tappe, who claimed she’d noticed a sharp uptick in the number of babies born with indigo-colored auras. But it was in the Nineties that the phenomenon took off in the mainstream, thanks to the book “The Indigo Children: The New Kids Have Arrived,” by husband and wife team Lee Carroll and Jan Tober.”

    The concept owes something to Alice Bailey’s assignment of colors to Leadbeater’s seven Theosophical chakras; to Kirlian photography, which New Agers embraced in the 1970s; and ultimately to Isaac Newton, who identified the seven colors of the rainbow (including “indigo”) because being into Western esotericism, he liked the number seven.

  28. Maxine, hmm! Clearly I need to look at more Roman frescoes.

    Orion, I’ll have a look at them as soon as we get a clear night — it’s been socked in pretty consistently here for a while now. As for Parker, most interesting. Thank you.

    Atmospheric, I didn’t have to put up with much in the way of Indigo Childishness, but yeah, that corresponds to what I saw, too.

    Blue Sun, fair enough! Yes, exactly — the Protestant Reformation was the triumph of rationalism over enchantment in Western religion, and the results have not been good.

    Reese, so? The fact that it’s the first account of the kind that was preserved — and not merely preserved, but turned into something of a cultural icon that many people thereafter imitated — shows that Petrarch’s ascent hit a cultural nerve in a way that no previous ascent had done.

    Bei, that seems about right — but the same color symbolism ended up being dragged into Spiral Dynamics, probably from Bailey’s work originally, and so connects to our theme.

  29. Hmm, the “I Am” movement (including offshoots like Mrs. Prophet’s group) focuses on the color violet as the most spiritually advanced color. The idea seems related, although I personally can’t distinguish these colors.

  30. I just want to say something about the mega corporations controlled by wokeism.

    In front of the armed prophet group based on faith and salvation, the armed business group based on rationality and utility is just a ridiculous and fragile counterfeit.

    After all, business and money are just false beliefs in illusory things, which are always vulnerable to even the most illogical beliefs.

  31. Hi John Michael,

    Barbarism is the natural state of mankind, Indigo philosopher kings will die by my sword! Man, you gotta love Robert E Howard’s writing, and hope you’re not offended by my slight interpretation. 😉 Never fails to lift the spirits his writing. Those post modern fools, mate, they are kidding themselves, you have to fight, just to stay in place.

    I’m gutted too. Seriously. I was hoping I’d be the first to mention the awful Indigo Children business from way back in the day. But clearly your other readers are more switched on than I. Respect to them. 🙂

    Anyway, my lived experience suggests to me that a form of the inverted bell shaped curve is hard wired into the very fabric of the universe. And if a person takes that curve and considers cycles, we end up with a sort of sine wave over the longer time. Abstract notions are fine and all, but the linear projection just isn’t reflected in our day to day lives, and belief in that notion is leading our civilisation to a very unpleasant future. Nobody listens to me though.



  32. Chauquin #10, the concept of Indigo children isn’t far off a spiritual spin on gifted children, as described here and here

    Where it falls apart is the teleological aspect. It assumes these children will become the majority, rather than remaining a tiny sliver of exceptional people. There’s a whole family tree, starting with Indigos – who are the spiritual wrecking balls, to Crystal children who clear up the rubble, and Rainbow children who build the new world. Interspersed with all of them are Starseeds, who have lived previous lives on other worlds.

    There are children with psychic powers – I used to be a PK dice-fixer – but the metaplot clearly isn’t working out.

  33. Wqjcv #15, a joke I heard is that humanity’s first question isn’t just ‘Can I burn this?’ but ‘Can I smoke this?’ 🙂

  34. Hi JMG,

    I enjoy the cultural histories and retrospectives. They are valuable on many levels and not the least of which for those never exposed to this material.

    As a long-time reader from the Arch Druid days, it strikes me the enchantment vs disenchantment discussion is understandable from the perspective of narrative control and ultimately cultural control.

    For those within any societal paradigm, being disenfranchised from the benefits of a societies spoils could naturally lead to various enchantment perspectives as a sense making exercise. In other words, how does one make sense of a world and society that demands conformance to memes like the “Myth of Progress” when one is not allowed to participate?

    Similarly, memes like the “Myth of Progress” are used as control paradigms to ensure conformity and control by supposed elites in any era. And in that process, disaffected groups are easily labeled “enchantists” and thus treated as throwbacks not worthy of further consideration.

    However, this simple perspective begs the question of enchantment as a rational view simply because the world holds many mysteries beyond the realm of human understanding. And that perspective sets up a natural tension within society as elites reinforce the “Myths of Progress” and the masses challenge those claims noting the many mysteries of life still beyond the limits of any progress mythology – consciousness being one good example.

    These thoughts reflect some of my takeaways from the this series of posts. If this perspective is oversimplified, please correct my error as appropriate.

    All the best.

  35. Mountain climbing: well, there’s always the Roman “Go, hurry over the Alps, for the delight of little boys and the applause of the mobs.”

  36. This morning I was reading an opinion piece in Unherd by Mary Harrington, who was discussing feminism and progress, and how in her view, technology has subverted gender roles and allowed people to change their reality, both virtually and physically. In that article she had this quote:

    And while Lacan’s theories don’t feature heavily in modern psychotherapeutic practice, the psychological flight he theorised away from reality into mirrors, language and identification has been wildly influential, via someone even less willing than he to bear very much reality: the queer theorist Judith Butler.

    Judith Butler argued that there’s never a point when we can encounter material reality save through language and ideal — and that language and ideal also shape material reality. And this has implications even in the supposedly “natural” and irreducible domain of sex: something that, Butler argued, isn’t “natural” at all but as it were performed into existence.

    This reminded me of your discussion last time of Owen Barfield and figuration:

    In this way our ideas shape our reality. This is why, for example, people who speak European languages see orange as a distinct color between red and yellow, while people who speak some other languages do not—for them, red and yellow run right up against each other, and what we call “orange” is for them either a shade of red or a shade of yellow. In both cases, the figuration of color has been shaped by the product of alpha-thinking we call “language,” and the result is that speakers of these two groups of languages literally perceive the world differently.

    Harrington points out how (expensive) technology, and profit-making companies, coupled with a digital-first culture, have disconnected many from material reality. I’ve not read any of Butler’s nor Lacan’s work, so judging only from the quote above from the article, it appears Butler is drawing on Barfield’s insight.

    On one hand, Harrington makes claims throughout her piece about human nature, and material reality. The point that Barfield has made is that we can’t really know what that material reality is except through our perceptual equipment, ideas, and our experiences. Which is also a point that Levi seems to be making, too.

    Yet the phenomenon that Harrington is objecting to, the desire to be younger, more beautiful, to change the nature of our bodies, etc, seems on the other hand a consequence of just that realization of the role of experience in shaping our reality. But the result of this seems distorted, to state this briefly without getting into the politics of the matter.

    Again, I don’t know what’s happening, but two thoughts arise:

    1. If the integral mode of consciousness allows for the access of all the other “previous” modes, then this could result in quite some confusion, in the sense that sight of all the modes doesn’t guarantee their wise use. Is the situation that Harrington describes a result of this, or some other assumption?

    2. I believe there is a saying in magical circles that ‘the planes are discrete and not continuous’. The desire to make these changes exists, the awareness of figuration’s role in shaping one’s reality exists, but is then taken too far outside the limits of what is materially possible; and this is a confusion about the nature of the planes.

    If Gebser’s idea of the integral consciousness is something known about, even it is incorrect, but assumed to be correct in society at large, then technology may appear to some as a form of magic in that it changes material reality in a way that a wizard, in pop culture, can wave a wand and change material reality.

    There is a wholesale cultural rejection of magic, but then a desire for magic’s power, thus technology has been infused with the aura of magic. And maybe I’m getting carried away with the thought, but this may arise from some cultural or societal confusion about seeing all of Gebser’s modes at once, and trying to use them?

  37. Dear JMG and commentariat,

    why do all these authors presume consciousness has (an underlying) structure?

    With deep regards,

  38. I’m just reading Grand Central Atelier’s website and never knew painting in greyscale / black and white was part of artists’ training. Artists do weird training. When Rodin was a student his art school did memory training. They started simple with lines and then shapes. At the most advanced level they’d walk to the Louvre, study a work, walk back to the school, and try to recreate it from memory as completely as possible.

  39. In regards to “Indigo Children”.

    Interesting to me that Violet is the highest color spiritually… I have a large collection of fluorescent minerals….

    So, it seems to me, very clearly, that anyone who thinks this way is very narrow minded. It is obvious that UltraViolet must be a higher order of spirituality. The “Ultra” spiritual shall we say!

    And it is funny to me that they limit themselves to visible light and the seen when they are trying to describe the unseen!


  40. As for C.G.Jung and eurocentrism, wasn’t he the guy who introduced East Asian mandala to western cultures?

    Classical training in drawing and painting, from nude to still life and landscape, is very much alive in private professional-level art schools, while public art universities dismiss them as outdated, or “not corresponding to market demands” as my former headmaster put it.

  41. Gebser’s indictment of the phrase “nothing but” reminds me of the crucial passage in Engine Summer where Rush that Speaks, directly addressing his mysterious “angel” interviewer in an interstice between chapters, remonstrates against the latter’s repeated attempts to identify and explain the strange artifacts Rush has encountered in his tale. Not having the book at hand I’ll have to paraphrase from memory: “You say Way-Wall is only some kind of engine for heat, and the house with the old woman just is a ba… a thing to tell the weather. Why is it like that for you? Why is it always ‘only’ and ‘merely’ and ‘just’?” Rush is pleading for his audience to see the enchantment he sees in his experiences. It’s an inversion of the SF trope of a post-industrial primitive misinterpreting technological artifacts: Rush and his people’s interpretations of such things is consistently more insightful and useful than their former intended meanings. (The novel’s twist, ultimately, suggests the achievement of some kind of integral consciousness in the sense under discussion here, albeit through extraordinary means.)

    That could be the Prime Directive of polyexegy and perhaps enchantment as well: nothing is ever “only” or “just.”* Seeing a tree as “nothing but” a complex shape made of cellulose might be sufficient for your present needs (for instance, if it’s fallen on your house and you need to remove it) but of course it’s not the truth. And no matter how far you go in the other direction, no matter how numerous, varied, or detailed your mental models of a tree are (an intricate biochemical process; an ecosystem of numerous tiny species; a sacred symbol with countless protean meanings; a century-long slow-motion lightning bolt of water; a part of a worldwide billion year long genetic computation; your own experiences climbing it as a child and the scar and lesson you carry from that time it didn’t go well), they’re never sufficient to draw a “nothing but” boundary around it. Which implies that the world really is in that grain of sand, and eternity in that hour; not just as a poetic metaphor but as plain evident fact. That might be all the enchantment I need in this lifetime.

    There’s a downside to it though: simple questions become few and far between. Which leaves me, for instance, trying to write a coherent explanation for my wife, of why “of course you’re still beautiful” isn’t a glib white lie but a truthful answer to a question I can barely comprehend about more than four decades of time, experiences, love, and change…

    *Except sometimes, a cigar, of course.

  42. Greetings all!
    (1) Phutatorius mentions: “that secretive and hierarchical “fourth way” group”
    I had a quick search on them, what’s so special about them?

    (2) Given the extraordinary achievements and feats of the past at all levels, can we say that consciousness has evolved or progressed from more primitive to more complex stages over the past 5000 years of recorded literature? Is it not the case that our consciousness is more or less the same as it has been since Homo Sapiens Sapiens emerged 200,000 years ago?


  43. If it was true “that human consciousness has evolved over historical time through a specific set of definable stages or structures” then it could be possible that humans could live off bugs and narrative.
    I reckon in a couple of weeks you’ll say it ain’t so but that’s not much comfort for the rest of my days as part of this civilization.
    Thanks again for this series of posts.

  44. Bei, you can’t distinguish between violet and indigo?



    Hint: indigo is the color of new blue jeans. (They were originally dyed with the color from the indigo plant.)

    林龜儒, it may be ridiculous and fragile, but it’s very often the best that a civilization can do in its late, brittle phase. We’ll get to that in due time.

    Martin, that’s exactly what Gebser, Wilber, et al. are trying to reject.

    Chris, I ain’t arguing!

    Resipsaloquitur, excellent! I see your crystal ball is in working order. We’ll be getting to this as the discussion continues; it’s early days yet.

    Patricia M, granted! But of course that’s not what Petrarch was doing.

    Jbucks, fascinating. I may check out that essay as time permits.

    Markéta, because they can’t claim that people are about to stop acting the way they’ve always acted, and start acting according to some utopian fantasy or another, unless they conjure up some such gimmick to support that unlikely argument!

    Yorkshire, it’s not weird at all. You need to understand light and shadow by themselves, not just as adjuncts to color, to be a good painter. You also have to have a first-rate visual memory.

    Orion, ha! A good point.

    Njura, sure, but most students of the Tantric traditions that use mandalas argue that Jung massively misunderstood what they are and how they work.

    Walt, it’s clearly been too long since I’ve read Engine Summer — thanks for the reminder. Your broader point is of crucial importance, and the term “polyexegy” is a keeper.

    Karim, your second question is the big one. Since we can’t exactly sit down with some people from 200,000 years ago and run a battery of psychological tests on them to see how they think, we simply don’t know whether their consciousness is the same as ours. The assumption that it was the same is just as hard to defend as the assumption that it was radically different. Thus the debate…

    JustMe, it ain’t so. There, I’ve said it already. (Offlist: I’m very sorry to hear of your loss; that sort of thing is always very difficult to go through.)

  45. JMG (no. 47) I can distinguish those particular examples from each other, but thanks to my particular type of color blindness, the top one looks blue to me, and the bottom one just like black (which Mrs. Prophet’s people never wear–due, I guess, to its association with head-bangers). Until today I thought jeans were normally some shade of blue.

  46. Hi JMG,

    You introduced me to the ideas of Jean Gebser, which are very interesting and very confusing to me at the same time! I have not read “The Ever-Present Origin,” only what other people have wrote about it.

    I’m having trouble distinguishing these structures of consciousness when I look back at evidence. You brilliantly mentioned the use of atmospheric perspective in Chinese landscape painting (long before Da Vinci), so we’ll use that as an example. These paintings came about when the Tang Dynasty was falling apart. Not too different from Gebser’s Europe. Many artists and thinkers retreated to the mountains to escape the chaos and found solace. They found order in the natural world and these landscape paintings later flourished in the Northern Song Dynasty. The landscapes became symbols of a perfectly ordered state. Larger mountains rose over smaller mountains, trees, animals, people, symbolizing ruler over subject.

    Wouldn’t using mountains as symbols of a state be the magical structure? Their atmospheric perspective would also be in the mental structure? Are they both? Leonardo’s paintings contained Christian subjects and symbols too.


  47. Hi JMG,

    Even though Gebser tries to avoid mentioning religion in his description of consciousness structures, I think they can be simplified somewhat by looking at the types of religion that corresponds to each of them. Excluding the pre-religious archaic consciousness structure, the corresponding forms of religion seem to be animism (magical), polytheism (mythic) and monotheism (mental).

    This also makes it possible to compare Gebsers ideas with those of Barfield. In fact, my guess is that the efficient phase of a consciousness structure corresponds to original participation in Barfield’s sense. The deficient phase of a consciousness structure then corresponds to a form of idolatry.

    Of course, it assumes that each consciousness structure has its own form of idolatry. Barfield only describes idolatry for the mental consciousness structure. Idolatry for the mythic consciousness structure is the form of idolatry that is much discussed in the old testament of the bible.

    To make this picture complete it would of course be nice to relate the integral consciousness structure to Barfield’s final participation. In Barfield’s world the collective unconsciousness creates the reality we experience. Achieving final participation includes having a conscious awareness of this form of constructivism. Though it is somewhat speculative, this form of awareness might be what Gebser calls the transparancy of reality. This implies equating Gebsers ever present origin with what Barfield calls the collective unconscious.

    Both Gebser and Barfield use art to study the history of consciousness. The amazing fact is that both seem to describe and study entirely different aspects of consciousness and its history. And this makes it rather difficult and quite speculative to compare both theories.

  48. @Raymond and @JMG
    “it’s all mythology with the serial numbers filed of”

    I immediately remembered this:

    “…each superseding religion assimilates the best in the religion it supersedes…As the new religion organizes itself it begins to persecute the remnant of the old, and this remnant is driven underground.” (W.E. Butler, Magic.)

  49. JMG,

    Since you have a lot of experience with magic, I’m curious to get your thoughts on Gebser’s categorisations. Do you think it makes sense to talk of magic as a discrete form of consciousness? If so, do you agree with Gebser that it is “egoless”?

    I seem to recall Gebser making the claim that the reason magic doesn’t work for modern (European) people is because the Mental Consciousness has been all about developing the ego and therefore clashes with the egolessnes required by the Magical Consciousnes.

  50. @JMG #30:
    Thank you for the reply; it spurred some research, as I’d not been aware of the significance of this. On the one hand, apparently not only is there evidence, rather than just probability, in favor of him not being the first, he may not actually have climbed the mountain at all and/or written the account of it years after he claimed. On the other hand, despite that, it does indeed seem to have been a powerful bit of writing that, as you said, hit quite a cultural nerve. Yet, as far as I’m remembering, this post and particularly your comment were the first time I’d heard of it at all.

  51. Bei, ah, so noted.

    Sean, exactly — if you take a close and unbiased look at the historical evidence, Gebser’s scheme falls to bits. We’ll be discussing that two weeks from now.

    Dadaharm, I’m pretty sure that Barfield read at least an early version of Gebser’s book, though he doesn’t cite it. Barfield was fluent in German and kept up on German scholarship. So the similarities may not be entirely coincidental!

    Alifelongme, bingo!

    Simon, no, Gebser is completely out to lunch there. To the extent that there are different structures of consciousness, each has its own kind of magic; there’s a great difference between, say, the sort of magic that was practiced in Europe in the tenth century AD and the sort that’s practiced there today, but there’s still plenty of magic around, and it still works.

    Reese, it used to be much more famous than it is now. Keep in mind that Western civilization is in decline, and a certain very real sort of cultural senility sets in as that happens.

  52. @JMG

    Why do you think Chomskian linguistics “could only be believed by someone who’s never studied a non-Indo-European language”? Kazuko Inoue, a native speaker of Japanese, bothered to write Transformational Grammar and Japanese (in two volumes) for example.

  53. Chris at Fernglade Farm wrote, “Anyway, my lived experience suggests to me that a form of the inverted bell shaped curve is hard wired into the very fabric of the universe. And if a person takes that curve and considers cycles, we end up with a sort of sine wave over the longer time. Abstract notions are fine and all, but the linear projection just isn’t reflected in our day to day lives, and belief in that notion is leading our civilisation to a very unpleasant future.”

    And what is a sine wave but a crude two-dimensional depiction of a spiral, the characteristic pathway travelled by any energy tethered round a single dimension? Everything we experience is spiraling through endless series of bell curves, peaking as they approach each one of the four quarters in succession and then tapering off as they spin on towards the next quadrant. A perpetual tracing and re-tracing of the clockwise and counterclockwise patterns laid down when the universe was born — cycles of cycles within never-ending cycles.

    We tend to flatten out that complexity of intersecting curves into the myth of linear projection without ever realizing that energy is always flowing in both directions up and down the spirals. While the simplification of the sine wave or the straight line or even the spiral itself is perfectly understandable and quite useful for our little primate minds to grapple with, the imagined unidirectional flow of the energy is just an arrogant unwillingness to pay any attention to the reality around us. Every action, after all, ends up spinning off equal and opposite reactions on every one of the planes. Hence why an imbalanced idea gaining sway can easily wreak havoc in the physical world, and why a god’s displeasure with us rapidly becomes apparent in the entire world around us.

    In this universe, at least, energy cannot be confined to a single plane, nor be coerced into spiraling in just one direction, let alone along a straight line. Such hubris! What a ridiculously preposterous idea in the first place. Who comes up with these mythic world views, anyways? We definitely should try to find a better scriptwriter for the next one.

  54. Hello JMG and fellow commenters,

    Short tangent on why Marx was wrong

    Marx’ claim for the class struggle was that workers were exploited and over time this would become worse and worse due to competition until there was a revolution that lead to Socialism. Exploitation means that you produce more in terms of monetary value than you get paid. However, as Marx noted himself in Grundrisse, the same can be said for machines. Machines get exploited too, you pay say $100 000 for a machine, it takes another $100 000 to maintain it but the machine produces goods that are worth $500 000. Marx tries to argue that away in a monstrous long footnote, but once you accept the “exploitation” of machines the rest of his arguments falls apart.

  55. A more meaningful translation of Gebser’s book Ursprung und Gegenwart might be What was and is to be.

    His structures seem to mimic human infant development:

    archaic structure: It’s all me
    magical structure: Oh, there’s me and not-me.
    mythical structure: The not-me’s exist even if I can’t see them.
    mental structure: I can manipulate not-me’s by smiling and screaming to get what I want.
    integral structure: I have become a good adult, giving and receiving, accepted and accepting, an integral part of human society.

    Each structure requires the casting-off of the previous structure.

    Are children born with Gebser’s structure hard-wired, or do they develop them? If developed, what is the process, and when is it complete? Can different people be stuck at different stages?

    I am always a bit suspicious when people make broad sweeping statements regarding “humanity”. We are all so different. Like Petrarch’s mountain, beautiful in the blue and hazy distance, but gnarly and intimidating when you get up close.

  56. Out of the blue I got a text from a friend announcing that he is an intuitive empath.

    JMG: Have you any posts about that specifically? Can you point him in a direction?

    Also, what books or other resources do you recommend? (Of course, also anyone in the commetariat!)



  57. @Markéta #40, I doubt it’s easy to distinguish between differences in “the structure of consciousness” (if there are such things), and differences in the cognitive tools being practiced. I’m not going to declare that those are two equivalent things, but I’m not certain they can be separated either. How much do the differing aspects of different languages cause or reflect differences in conscious experience? Does a mathematician doing advanced math experience different consciousness, or “just” different stuff to think about? Such questions have occasionally been explored in science fiction; for example regarding the effects of Spice in Dune or the effects of learning the alien language in Arrival.

    It’s certainly not an area where it’s safe to go making bold assumptions! I anticipate that our host’s dismantling of Gebser’s assumption will be… let’s just say thorough.

  58. It seems this idea that we will somehow evolve into the Age of Aquarius, whether driven by a religious belief in science and technology or New Age hopefulness, is just the other side of the same coin as the doomsday lot. It’s black-and-white thinking in both cases; we’re either all gonna die tomorrow, or we’re all transcending our earthly bodies, tomorrow!

    I read this post on Gebser after witnessing a woman in the park smack her dog in the face and fail to control the animal via its leash. So I had to chuckle at the personal lack of evidence that humanity is somehow in ascendance.

    Then this morning, a report on a popular sub-Reddit of people who spool away their time and energy lamenting climate change and our imminent demise:

    That one got pretty serious, as the tribe attracts a fair number with likely pre-existing mental illness, and the extinction narrative fuels both their anti-natalism (there’s a sub-Reddit for that, too) and their suicidal depression.

    JMG and fans, I wonder if you have any thoughts on this dichotomy of doom vs. divine.

  59. JMG,

    I know this discussion is a long march down the road of “human consciousness” but is there a name for its antithesis i.e. “the state of non-willpower” or “the empty state”? In the past I would have called this antithesis “ego death” but I no longer know if that is the right term.

  60. Collapse Aware Engineer #57, according to the labour theory of value, machines can only contain the ‘dead labour’ that was put into building them. They can’t create any value beyond that. That’s why the theory predicts the rate of profit will fall as capitalism automates. It always made me suspicious that in all the examples used to illustrate this, the machines have to break down remarkably quickly. I’m not sure the theory holds up with machine tools that have lasted over a century. But if you look at the statistics, the rate of profit has fallen in parallel with the increase of automation – as the theory would suggest. However the Limits to Growth model also predicted the rate of profit would fall at the same time, due to environmental degredation and resources running down. So attribution is tricky.

  61. Orion @ 60, I can’t help you with written sources, but I can say I have known a few such persons who used their talent in a most irresponsible manner, and a. caused great harm to others, and b. ended being objects of actual long term hatred of the others on whom they turned their attentions, and despised by yet more persons. Are you in a position to be able to counsel your friend about responsible use of one’s talents, or even to give a friendly warning?

  62. Mahmoud, during the era of Chomski’s ascendancy, you couldn’t get published in many branches of linguistics unless you kowtowed to his theory. I know academics who decided not to pursue a doctorate in linguistics, and went into different fields instead, because they couldn’t stomach the gyrations they’d have to go through to placate the Chomskians. I gather that Inoue didn’t feel the same way.

    Engineer, my only quarrel is that the mistake you cited isn’t the only reason why Marx was wrong!

    Martin, granted, but The Ever-Present Origin was the English translation that Gebser himself chose. Whether Gebser himself identified his structures with developmental stages, that equation was made at great length in the later literature.

    Robert, ha! I didn’t happen to know that, and it’s worth knowing. Thank you.

    Orion, that’s not something I know much of anything about, since I’m on the opposite end of that particular spectrum. Anyone else?

    Brunette, why, yes — I’ve been talking about that (and sometimes ranting about it!) since not long after I started blogging. Here’s one example —

    The very short form is that it’s warmed-over Christian eschatology, with the Tribulation and the Millennium decked out in various forms of pseudosecular drag. Our culture is obsessed with the notion that a spectrum can only consist of its two endpoints, and so Bucky Fuller’s famous (and impressively silly) book title Utopia or Oblivion sums up most of the way people in the modern Western world think about the future. No matter how many times predictions made on that basis trip over their feet and land face first, people keep clinging to them, because the alternative is accepting that we really are going to face the consequences of our own actions, for good or ill.

    GlassHammer, do you mean the pathological version of that or the mystical version of that?

  63. @Brunette Gardens wrote

    “… we’re either all gonna die tomorrow, or we’re all transcending our earthly bodies, tomorrow!”

    Hey, why not both! 🙂

  64. JMG, thanks for that comment, and for the link. Utopia or Oblivion hits it perfectly.

    As an aside, this bit from it resonated with me: “Now I’m no great fan of Christianity myself. To me, all its myths and symbols put together don’t carry the spiritual impact of one blue heron flying through dawn mists or a single autumn sunset seen through old growth cedars; that’s why I follow a Druid path.”

  65. “GlassHammer, do you mean the pathological version of that or the mystical version of that?” -JMG

    I had the pathological in mind but I would be happy to know the spiritual as well.

  66. The evolution of consciousness in humans is interesting to me because it seems to point to what differentiates us from other animals and why we might be special or not. This discussion made me think of a book I read long ago: The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, by Julian Jaynes. Jaynes thought that the bicameral nature of our brain lent itself to a consciousness that presented divinity to us as hallucinations from the one half of the brain as perceived by the other half. I can’t remember a whole lot else about the book, but it was interesting. Over time, as human consciousness has evolved, we have seen through the hallucinations and achieved more integration of our brains while perhaps also projecting the “gods” outside of ourselves instead of retaining them as a part of our own consciousness.

    Here’s a passage quoted in the wikipedia entry on this book that give you a flavor of Jayne’s theory. I am interested in what you all think of this theory of consciousness in relation to these other philosophers, Gebser, Wilbur, et al:

    “In the third chapter of the book, “The Mind of the Iliad”, Jaynes states that people of the era had no consciousness.

    There is in general no consciousness in the Iliad. I am saying ‘in general’ because I shall mention some exceptions later. And in general therefore, no words for consciousness or mental acts. The words in the Iliad that in a later age come to mean mental things have different meanings, all of them more concrete. The word psyche, which later means soul or conscious mind, is in most instances life-substances, such as blood or breath: a dying warrior bleeds out his psyche onto the ground or breathes it out in his last gasp. The thumos, which later comes to mean something like emotional soul, is simply motion or agitation. When a man stops moving, the thumos leaves his limbs. But it is also somehow like an organ itself, for when Glaucus prays to Apollo to alleviate his pain and to give him strength to help his friend Sarpedon, Apollo hears his prayer and “casts strength in his thumos” (Iliad, 16:529). The thumos can tell a man to eat, drink, or fight.[5]”

  67. These discussions have reminded me of a conversation I once had as a baby witchling with a New Ager. I was at a New Age Expo, a venue more miasmic with desperate greed than the seediest used-car lot, and this vendor was expounding on some version or other of time leading humanity in a straight line from the caves to godhood or enlightenment or something. When he stopped for breath I said that as a pagan I preferred to visualize time as a spiral. With a triumphant smile, he said, “But a spiral still moves upward!” At that point I gave up and walked away.

    I’m also reminded of a book I read last year, “Stages of Faith” by theologian James W. Fowler. He was inspired by Piaget and Kolberg, and outlines a set of stages of faith development to parallel stages of psychological and moral development. Personally not a fan because of his powerful monotheist bias (IIRC, polytheism is presented as being distracted by the things of the world instead of correctly seeking the transcendent One). However, credit where it’s due, at least he limits his theory to individual development and doesn’t try to shoehorn whole civilizations–or the whole of civilization–into it.

  68. I’ve been wondering about the varied reactions of the thinkers the 19th and 20th centuries to the influx of historical and anthropological knowledge that was happening at that time due to colonialism/globalisation.

    In Gebser, you have the utopian reaction of looking to the future with hope. In Spengler and Nietzsche, you get the fatalistic reaction of resigning yourself to the inevitable. In Kierkegaard and Camus, there’s the idea of forgetting about the bigger picture and just living your own life.

    It seems to me they were all grappling with the notion that their civilisation was dying. Toynbee explicitly avoids drawing that conclusion even though it’s the obvious one from his analysis.

    So my question would be: has there been any other civilisation that learned of its own demise beforehand? Or was the Faustian the first because of its pre-existing enthusiasm for history and its global reach which enabled for the first time exactly the kind of scholarship that Spengler, Gebser and Toynbee carried out?

    P.S. I did my degree in linguistics and if I have to look at another Chomskyan syntactic tree diagram, I’m gonna scream.

  69. >according to the labour theory of value, machines can only contain the ‘dead labour’ that was put into building them. They can’t create any value beyond that.

    Oh, that’s absurd. But it did get me thinking. What factory machines do is translate energy into things, ultimately. If you have plenty of excess energy, you will get an excess of things. Not necessarily things you want or things you need, just things. You might get things you need or want but make no mistake – that happened by accident and not by design. Ok, time to dial the cynicism down a little bit.

    I guess this is where some people would start talking about how capitalism and free markets guide and shape what those machines do, and I would say something like “Sigh, I guess so” or “How free are those free markets you’re referring to?”

    I would also say something about how machines can run unattended for long stretches of time but when they break, it requires skilled and sometimes rare talent to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it. The more sophisticated you make your machinery, the less people you need but the smarter they need to be when you do actually need them.

    I guess in any case, I can cross off Das Kapital from my reading list, if that’s the level of thinking that Marx guy was up to.

  70. Hi John Michael,

    Reading and cogitating upon this topic reveals a hidden sadness and weakness within our culture. There is something deeply troubling about running towards an abstraction, when the culture is unable to deal with what is. Frankly, the running towards is an easy path because abstractions don’t have to actually work, but as a strategy I’d suggest that it is not very effective.



  71. About blue and green, modern Japanese has two distinct words (and ideograms) for blue and for green. Other than blue, modern Japanese and Mandarin use the same ideograms for basic colors.
    (For pink and teal, though, modern Japanese uses pinku and teiru, i.e. English. Older Japanese surely had its own words for these.)
    It is curious though that modern Japanese and modern Mandarin use different ideograms for blue. The one that Japanese uses seems to mean indigo in Mandarin. Also, for some reason, “green leaves” in Japanese are called “aoba”, which means blue leaves.
    TLDR: Japanese distinguishes blue and green but there are residues in the language consistent with that not always having been the case.

    Engineer and Darkest Yorkshire
    Darkest Yorkshire explained well (at least according to me) what Marx wrote about this: Only human labor creates new value in production. Everything else just passes it value on into the finished product.
    On the other hand, the situation that Engineer’s numbers give us, in which the machine produces more value than its purchase price is the situation when someone is using new technology. 100,000 purchase + 100,000 maintenance produces 500,000 worth of products, as valued using older technology.
    What then happens is that everyone purchases the new machine and the value of those 500,000 of products falls to 200,000. (In all this, we are leaving out all other factors of production.)
    The faster the technological progress, the more this matters. In the worst days of early industrialization, new machines were so much superior to old ones that the old ones became economically non-competitive (morally obsolete) long before they wore out. (Computers were like this back in the day of 286 and 386 CPUs. Nowadays, such moral obsolescence is artificially generated through software.)
    The solution that manufacturers came up with was to run their machines as much as they possibly could and use them up before they became non-competitive. Thus, the very speed of technological progress made the conditions of the working class of the day much worse. One of Marx’s main points was that there simply must be some perversely wrong about any system in which progress leads to immiseration. And the early days of industrialization certainly did.
    If one reads Marx, it is worth distinguishing between what he says in political mode (Go Workers Go!) and what he says in scientific mode (far more complex and nuanced). The Communist Manifesto in particular is often quoted as though it is Marx’s fully spelled out understanding. Actually, he wrote it pretty much at the start of his involvement in politics, during the 1848 revolutions across Europe, a moment of massive upsurge that seemed so promising (like the Arab Spring) but collapsed with little to show for it on the surface (again like the Arab Spring). Then he spent the rest of his life trying to figure out the deeper currents. A far better example of his political and historical understanding is The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, which is short, easy to read, and quite non-teleological.
    That of course begs the question of why one would read Marx at all. One reason would be if one saw any value in the explorations of so many people who at least thought they were working for a freer humanity. Because so many of them (fewer in the US for sure) were exploring within the field of Marxism, some of the most interesting working against much of that field but still using its terms, if one does not understand Marx, there are many other thinkers who are difficult to access.
    Similarly, one might decide that Christianity has nothing of value, but if one did think there was something to be gotten out of that large chunk of European thought and belief and history, one would have to have at least a reasonable understanding of what is in the Bible in order to make much sense of anything Christian (or even anti-Christian).
    Returning to today’s topic, Marx’s mature work is peak-disenchantment. That is likely its greatest weakness and the area that later intellectuals worked the most to correct. In the younger Marx who wrestled with Hegel and Feuerbach, although the surface is taking disenchantment yet a step further, there is at the same time, a search for something deeper, more meaningful than reason alone could provide. Perhaps many disenchantmentists wrestled with the same vague sense of something missing.

  72. It looks pretty easy to align all of these elevation-of-consciousness schemas with hierarchy-of-needs schemas. Looking at the “Altitudes of Development” chart, for example, one can ask what additional benefits the individual attains from participating at each successive “altitude.” Something like this:

    Archaic – basic survival
    Indigenous – safety
    Tribal – agency
    Traditional – law/property
    Modern – comfort
    Post Modern – justice/continuity
    Integral – not clear (which is understandable, as this is new/unattained)

    One elephant in the room here seems to be that in most cases one can only work at the current highest “altitude” when the benefits of all of the preceding ones are in hand. That’s why currently, most people lose interest in social justice or sustainability if their comfort is threatened (or if they don’t have it to begin with). If law, agency, or safety is lost, I for one am all for defaulting to the appropriate lower “altitude” and working at that level to try to get it back.

    That might not be the case for the “Integral” or “Post Integral” “altitudes,” though. Those might be better visualized as a separate orthogonal axis of “development,” with its own sort of trajectory. Which would explain how “saints and sages” managed to appear “throughout history” without the supposed benefits of the more recent stages, and why “Integral” cognition or something analogous to it is always reported to be imminent or “emerging” but never widely emerges.

  73. Martin Back (no. 58), evolution-of-consciousness theorists often take inspiration from Haeckel’s “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny,” but what works for an infant, as a phase of the life cycle, would absolutely not work for a whole society or population. We’d bump into trees.

    Reading ancient authors, I do not get the impression that their consciousness was qualitatively different from ours (as Julian Jaynes says).

  74. A small good sign from a den of disenchantmentists
    A Ken Wilber-ite web site:

    Navigating the Meaning Crisis — What’s Wrong With Stage Models?

    1) Psychometric skepticism – uncertainty around how we are measuring and validating these measurements ,

    2) The problem of the “monolithic mind” — the idea that the mind is a “whole”, which wholly moves from one stage to the next,

    3) Underlying founders’ bias — stage models often bias the model-maker, who tend to represent themselves as the highest stage(s) in the model.

  75. @Seaweedy

    The lack of conscious in the Iliad is pretty simply explained by the differences between Classical Greek culture and Western European culture. The Greeks and Romans saw it as a very different thing than we do. Everything was about what is actually in front of your senses, rather than anything hidden.

    If Jayne had bothered to examine other cultures of the same time like ancient China and India he would have seen a much different view of conscious than the Greeks.

    The takeaway is everyone views it differently.

  76. Brunette, you’re most welcome!

    GlassHammer, last I heard the pathology is called depersonalization syndrome, and it belongs to the category of dissociative disorders. The mystical state has various names depending on tradition; in Buddhism it’s the realization of anatta, the absence of an abiding self.

    Seaweedy, I read Jaynes’ book when it first came out. It’s interesting, but it relies on a very simplistic theory of brain dominance, and its basic assumption can be described as “gods and spirits can’t possibly exist, so why did ancient people hallucinate their voices?” On the other hand, Jaynes did take seriously the fact that ancient people did in fact have conversations with gods and spirits.

    Sister Crow, I’ve had similar conversations with people who don’t know the difference between a spiral and a helix!

    Simon, there’s good reason to think that the Aztecs and Incas were aware of the impending destruction of their civilizations — William Sullivan’s fine book the Secret of the Incas is a good intro to this. Chinese thinkers didn’t expect the end of their civilization — and of course it hasn’t ended yet — but their time theory, embodied in the I Ching, left plenty of room for crises, collapses, and long eras of decline. So we’re not the first, though we seem to be unusually obsessed with it.

    Chris, you know, that’s an excellent point. We run toward abstractions — what are we running away from?

    Jessica, interesting. I was taught that aoi meant both blue and green, while midori means specifically “melon-colored” and so was a shade rather than an independent color; this is also what Wikipedia has to say on the subject.

    Walt, I tend to think of “integral consciousness” as being the consciousness equivalent of flying cars and domed cities — a fantasy of the perfect future which could never be realized in the first place.

    Jessica, thank you for this! Common sense seeping in at last…

  77. Hmm, it appears my original weekly comment didn’t go through. I’ll try to make sure to check on this in the future.

    To those who are interested, here are all of the requests for prayer that have recently appeared across the Ecosophia community. Please feel free to add any or all of them to your prayers.

    If I missed anybody on the full list, or if you would like to add a prayer request for yourself or anyone who has given you consent (or for whom a relevant person holds power of consent) to the list, please feel free to leave a comment below and/or at the prayer list page.

    This week I would like to bring special attention to Lp9’s request on behalf of their hometown, East Palestine Ohio, for the safety and welfare of their people and all living beings in the area. The details coming out are still caught in the fog of war, and various claims of catastrophe and non-catastrophe are flying about, but the reasonable possibility seems to exist that this is an environmental disaster on par with the worst America has ever seen. At any rate, it is clearly having a devastating impact on the local area, and prayers are certainly warranted.

    Finally, if there are any among you who might wish to join me in a bit of astrological timing, I pray each week for the health of all those with health problems on the list on the astrological Hour of the Sun on Sundays, bearing in mind the Sun’s rulerships of heart, brain, and vital energies. If this appeals to you, I invite you to join me.

  78. JMG,

    Interesting. I still think that something more meta was going on in the 19th/20th centuries. It wasn’t just that the Faustian was dying, but through historical analysis Spengler, Toynbee and Gebser were raising the question of civilisational life and death in general.

    On one end of the spectrum, you’ve got Spengler with a hardcore cyclical analysis that implies that whatever is truly unique about a culture always dies with that culture. At the other end, you’ve got linear analyses like Gebser’s which suggest that learning can continue across civilisations. Toynbee is somewhere in the middle since he suggests that some civilisations have “parents” (eg. the Classical gave rise to the Faustian) while others seems to come out of nowhere (eg. the Egyptian).

    It seems quite synchronous that all these questions were being raised at the same time as the world wars, the holocaust and the atomic bomb, all of which throw the entire project of civilisation into doubt since it must have seemed after WW2 that civilisation might end up destroying itself.

  79. Jessica (no. 78)

    (Viking clap)

    Yes! This is the highest mode of thinking!

    Sister Crow (no. 71) “I was at a New Age Expo, a venue more miasmic with desperate greed than the seediest used-car lot…”

    Possibly related:

    (For Amish readers who don’t do videos, this is a look at the subculture that believes in a “Secret Space Program” involving some combination of space Nazis, reptoid or insectoid or gray aliens, cloned space marines with psychic powers, and repressed memories thereof. Turns out you can make serious money off of these people. And yes, they have conferences.)

  80. The Other Owen #73, you’re a natural at this – you’re coming up with Marxist analysis without even knowing it. Energy in a useable form is already the product of labour (coal miners, power station workers, etc), so the machine being able to turn it into value isn’t a contradiction. Maintenance also injects living labour into the machine, reinvigorating it’s value-making potential. I would agree, don’t start with Das Kapital – it will make very little sense. If you do want to get into Marx the classic starting place is Marx’s Kapital for Beginners by David Smith and Phil Evans. It’s the reference I still go back to now.

    Jessica #75, thanks – I had a crisis of confidence after I reading ‘machines can be exploited’ and thinking maybe I’d misunderstood something fundamental. 🙂 On why to read Marx, I’m convinced that to get the most out of him you have to go into a kind of altered state of consciousness. Like reading about complexity theory, it’s a kind of secular mysticism where you experience some fundamental structure of the world. It feels to use a similar part of the brain to reading Dion Fortune.

  81. Hi John Michael,

    I don’t really know, but at a guess I’d have to suggest: Ourselves.

    And around we go: Barbarism, is the natural… 🙂

    What do you believe it may be that we are running away from?

    You’ve taught me to understand that magic is best used on ourselves, or at least for positive outcomes in others. If a person does not then wish to pursue those options, what does it suggest about their inner workings?



  82. JMG,

    Thanks for the assistance.

    Depersonalization is frequently paired with Derealization (Feeling like you living in a movie/dream or feeling as if you were separated from those around you by a glass wall) and the later is the term I think I was looking for.

    My thinking is that after decades of living a substantial portion of life through various screens (TV, movies, Internet, etc…) we have created a populace that is stuck in “Derealization”. Now nothing on the screen is real and very little in their own life is real either.

    I can only substantiate this as a sense/intuition I am getting through my interactions with family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. (So it’s very anecdotal) But the “most online” (Those that spend a substantial portion of their life on a screen) of the people I encounter exhibit something like Derealization when they speak about the goings on of their own life.

    This sense/intuition I have over this connection between too much screen time and Derealization is why I firmly limit my screen time and that of my families.

  83. @Jessica re: #75 and midori

    Modern Japanese does distinguish midori from ao, but it is pretty clear this is a recent development and quite possible (I don’t know for certain; I’m not Japanese) that midori is still thought as something like a “shade” of ao in the same sense that, say, I’d think of cerulean as being a light shade of blue (while the Russians would see them as different true colors). Traffic lights, for instance, are still green in Japan (when they indicate “go”, at least), but the word used for them is ao and not midori.

    Grammatically, ao is a true adjective, taking the -i ending that allows it to modify a noun directly and also to function as a verb: sora ga aoku natte hoshii 空が青くなってほしい “I want the sky to be blue”. To my knowledge, the only colors in Japanese that do this are aka (red), shiro (white), kuro (black), chairo “brown”, and kiiro “yellow”, and it should be pointed out that chairo and kiiro are two-character compounds, the second character of which is the one meaning “color”, so they may be later developments. (However, near as I can tell, 黄, the first character in kiiro, only means “yellow” even in Chinese. Chairo, 茶色, “brown”, can still be broken down into “tea-colored”.

    Midori, on the other hand, is a noun – to call something green you have to combine it with no “‘s”, i.e. midori no umi, 緑の海, “green ocean”. According to, it existed as potentially as early as the 9th century, but apparently wasn’t widely adopted until after World War II (likely under the influence of Americans who thought of blue and green as separate colors). Certain other colors work the same way; Japanese has “pink” as a straightforward borrowing from English, pinku, ピンク, written in katakana and attached to a noun again via the possessive particle の.

    The English word “orange” actually did something similar, and I suspect is likely the “newest” true color word in several European languages. Per Wiktionary, Old English had no separate word for it; you just said “yellow-red” in the same sense you could refer to “yellow-green” (what might be called “lime green” today) or “blue-green” to refer to various teals and turquoises. In Spanish, “orange” is anaranjado, which looks like a verbal participle – “turned into an orange (the fruit, naranja)”. In German, while orange can be used directly as an adjective, it seems rarer, you’ll frequently see something orange referred to as orangefarbene “orange-colored” rather than just orange, suggesting a newer development.

  84. This entire topic: the idea of “progress” and a hierarchy of human development in whatever form be it spiral, linear, etc., brings me to what I know in my soul.

    We are all part of the Universal Being, a part of the whole (many call this god a d many other names), and, as a part of this eternal whole, there is no progress or progression except the individual variation of each and every one of us to connect to it and the amount of connection over time as say an average of the average human being. So there is variation of the connection by each of us and as a whole for humanity, but the underlying Universal Being is the same for all times, both in the past and in the future. What varies is the connection to it; the amount of revelation or revealing. We can, all of us, past, present and future, influence the amount of connecting by different practices. Piety might be the best word for it. And, to be clear, I mean true piety not ritual or other practices that no longer work to achieve piety. The key in this regard is if the ritual or practice works for you, at the individual level. I’m not totally against ritual, but, just as in the discussion of Marx and machines/tech to create value, old rituals, lose value over time, and while they can still work for some, with hard work and practice, they will be replaced by new forms of piety over time. This is natural in the course of evolution and the essential conflict between the material world and the spiritual. (To be clear, I say again, whatever ACTUALLY works for you is what is important! Old rituals and ideas can be just as valid!)

    The main point I make is that the underlying soul/infinite god/unseen/spiritual/universal being is eternal and therefore always the same. Therefore there is no progress or progression along these lines. The only change is in our ability to grasp a portion of the infinite, sometimes more and sometimes less. This can happen on day to day or century to century.

    And, at this time of great change in our world, it is time for all of us to help each other to connect with the universal being using any methods we have at hand. This means having an open mind to old ways and new. Old rituals and new. Magic! Enchantment! Of course! And also the teachings of Jesus. (And I say this with full knowledge of my beliefs that Jesus was a man, like any of us, that I believe achieved something close to if not full enlightenment. And all the rituals that have come down through the last 2000 years are just shadows of what Jesus truly taught. And, while they might have some value still, have been perverted to make piety harder rather than easier.)

    So, practice prayer and meditation. Practice resurrection. Listen for this spirit everywhere. Bring this spirit forth into your daily life. Piety is not something that only happens in church, or rituals, or even the sacrements, but is heard in the voice of the birds. Is seen in the sunset, the stars, the entire world around us. Take notice! And sense it in your daily toil, your joy and sorrow. It is there. Always was and always will be, and it makes you strong. It actually can make you AntiFragile!

    I hope these words are clear. Even as I acknowledge the abstract nature of them. It is, of course, impossible to convey this idea properly with only words.



  85. Quin, then it got lost on the way to my inbox — that apparently happens sometimes. Thank you for posting this!

    Simon, oh, granted — one of the distinctive features of Faustian civilization is that it’s obsessed with universal abstractions to a degree rarely found in other civilizations; just as its religious beliefs insist that there’s one true faith for everybody, its secular scholarship insists there’s one true interpretation of every phenomenon, and the quest to find that latter has produced some fascinating results (as well, of course, as some stupid ones). Add in Europe’s twentieth century age of agony, and the kind of big questions you’re talking about come naturally to a Faustian mind.

    Bei (if I may), everyone has conferences these days. The fact that there are organized conventions where people go to have sex while dressed up like cartoon animals more or less sums up our culture in its current discombobulation.

    Chris, I think that what we’re running away from is a universe that doesn’t think as highly of us as we think of ourselves. There’s good reason why the twentieth century’s most iconic horror writer, H.P. Lovecraft, got most of his shudders by pointing out to people that the universe really is indifferent to our pretensions. (That, in turn, is why I don’t find Lovecraft’s stories scary, but rather endearing instead.)

    GlassHammer, that makes a great deal of sense. I’ll want to spend some serious time thinking about it — so thank you.

    Orion, thanks for this. No argument here!

  86. @jbucks, JMG:

    As a very perceptive commenter on the UnHerd piece mentions, the author has not grasped what Lacan meant with his introduction of the mirror stage – it is not some post-modern doctrin of total bodily plasticity, but describing a necessary stage in the development of a newborn.
    The necessary illusion the mirror conveys to the child is one of bodily integration, an early stage of becoming a fully functional human being (even though at that moment the child can neither talk nor walk).
    Much like concepts of energy centres whose integration forms part of spiritual development, Freud’s and Lacan’s work developes hypotheses about human development in their respective language, a language that was necessarily one of their times.
    That postmodern theory would come to enthusiastically endorse what in Lacan’s terms could be termed misjudging the Imaginary for the Real, i.e. cutting off or sewing on body parts, should be layed at the feet of authors who go for those sort if things.

  87. Yeah, a flying car is a really good metaphor for integral consciousness!

    Stage schemas emphasize contrasts between stages to make the case for a clear progression (or at least classification) of them. Like “ego centric” at one “altitude of development” and “world centric” at another, or Gebser’s binaries of unity and separation as the dimensions unfold. As a result, when they then describe “integral” consciousness as combining all the previous stages, they imply a bundle of contradictions. Okay, so instead, it’s the “good parts” of all the stages that are being combined… but what happens when you try to disconnect the good parts from the bad parts? The way a flying car in principle combines (but in practice inevitably fails to combine) the good parts of a car and a plane, perchance?

    Like the various prototype flying cars that have been around for nearly as long as there have been cars and flying machines, I get the impression that various realizations of integral consciousness are possible and have been demonstrated, accounting for (among other things) some of Gebser’s avant-garde touchstones. But they’re limited and impractical. I’m very fond of Nude Descending a Staircase and had a reproduction of it on my wall for many years. But it’s a one-off novelty, achieved by extending a medium to purposes it’s not really suitable for (which is also why it’s ingenious). If you really want to explore the nature of the shapes of the human figure in motion over time, there’s dance, film, kinematics, and even sequential art (aka comics). Different tools for different purposes, like, say, cars, helicopters, and airplanes. Likewise, can’t my consciousness be triangular on Tuesday, one-dimensional on Wednesday, and circular on Saturday? (Maybe even fractal on Friday?)

  88. Brendhelm (#87)
    {Fine point of Japanese grammar; feel free to skip, everyone}
    As best I recall, only kiiroi can be used directly as a modifier without no. Chairoi sounds weird. I would expect chairo no. There are any number of other two-character color names ending with iro that require the use of no. For example, nezumiiro [mouse colored] or haiiro [ash colored] for gray and sorairo [sky colored] for sky blue.
    For brown referring to human skin (or tan), kasshoku (褐色) is used, with the 色 read as shoku instead of iro. Because Japanese will be Japanese.
    I am glad this came up. I always wondered why green leaves were called aoba (blue leaves).

  89. JMG #89, a great story I heard about furry conventions. It’s really easy to heatstroke while wearing a fursuit, so one guy invented a cooling suit to wear under it. The cooling system was so effective he ended up selling the design to the US military. Progress ain’t done yet. 🙂

  90. Glass hammer: Yes! Yes! Yes!

    I think of it also as looking through the windshield of a car. It just isn’t natural. Makes it harder to connect to everything around you. You end up thinking like a car instead of a human being. You are going too fast to have human paced interaction. Everything is blurred.

    After I had enlightenment I have completely stopped paying any attention to the “internet”, with very few exceptions (ecosophia being almost the only one). I think it has to do with “truth”, in the “highest” or religious sense. Honesty! What can you honestly trust online? NOTHING! (Well, almost.) Therefore it isn’t useful to me as a spiritual being or as a human being practicing my natural faculties. (Reason, Compassion, Truth, Intellect, Justice, Love, and the religious faculty/piety) And it is out of my control. So not worth my time.
    Also I am almost completely in person now. I refuse zoom unless I am forced to use it for very specific reasons. I NEED the face to face when interacting.
    (I am writing a lot now! Which is basically a form of meditation for me. Also reading books again in a big way.)

    Weirdly, I actually don’t think that mandating “no screen time” and similar measures actually changes people’s outlook toward or amount of “derealization”. The only way out of it, IMO, must come from spiritual growth. And that can’t be forced on someone. So we all must take steps to point ourselves, our children and society at large to grow spiritually. And yes, this is a high order! But at least now I believe we are starting to see the beginning of this in events like the Asbury “Revival” mentioned last week.

    I was speaking to a friend about that yesterday and he said, “Asbury is like a pilot light.”

    I feel this yearning, craving! Deep in people’s souls all across the land and around the world. I just hope that this groundswell continues to grow and more and more people connect with their spirituality.

    It sure was fun for a while though! Lol


  91. John Michael Greer (#80)
    I lived in Japan in the 80s. When I was there, everything green was simply midori, but there were the rare odd uses of ao where I would have expected midori. Now I know why.
    Most all my contact with Japanese was with post-war materials. Even pre-WW2 books are different enough to be noticeably more difficult to read. Anything before the Meiji Restoration (1868) would be as different as Shakespeare’s English. The ubiquitous samurai dramas used much old Japanese, a separate vocabulary that I never tackled.
    I wonder if it means anything that in the US and Canada, there are a number of color words that seem to be far more common than 60 years ago. I don’t remember hearing indigo much until the indigo children phase. Teal was still blue-green.
    Come for the de-disenchantment, get the history lesson as a bonus.

    Darkest Yorkshire (#84)
    Wow. I never thought of that. Reading Marx as an altered state of consciousness. I will have to contemplate that.
    He wrote before modern advertising and mass media. Mass consumption newspapers came in during his lifetime. You can see the difference in the Russian Marxists, for whom newspapers were a major focus. Hmm. Thank you for this.

  92. Speaking of dimensions, points have zero dimensions. Should the one-dimensional representation of Gebser’s magical structure be a line segment (or something similar) instead?

  93. >people go to have sex while dressed up like cartoon animals

    I wonder. I do wonder. Do higher order beings go to conventions to have sex dressed up as cartoon humans?

  94. @Darkest Yorkshire

    You got a smile out of me when you called me a Marxist. I’m not sure the rest of the Marxists out there would like me very much though. I wonder if Marx ever said anything about how all labor isn’t the same though? That it’s not really fungible? I get the feeling he thought Labor was like some holy deity that had to be worshiped or something.

    And you had to motivate me enough to verify that Furry-Military connection. My Furry quota for the month has almost been reached today.

    And it’s mostly true. The guy who invented it wasn’t connected with the military at all though, it was just some customer who happened to be a soldier who spread the word about the product to his buddies, who I guess looked past his um, furry tendencies – and tried the product themselves, except not in a fursuit.

    In racing, they do something substantially similar – except instead of frozen gel packs, icewater from a cooler is circulated through lines in an undersuit. You plug your racing suit into the cooler/pump sitting in the back or at your side and you start your engine. Not nearly as portable though.

  95. It’s no problem, JMG, and in fact the problem might be on my end– I’m usually posting while in transit on subways and trains, and sometimes the transmission gets a little wonky.

    On the Japanese blue/green issue, I can fairly decisively answer as someone living in Japan, largely in Japanese, with a native Japanese wife who I went to the trouble of consulting on the issue and even doing a quick color test to make sure she called different shades of color the same things I would (and she did): JMG’s original phrasing that there is no distinction between blue and green in “modern Japanese” is incorrect at the current time, but if he was reading a source on the matter which dated to around mid 20th Century, it was probably basically correct back then.

    Using my wife as a basis, who has never lived outside of Japan and in fact speaks no other languages than Japanese, it seems that modern Japanese people see green and blue pretty much the same way that Westerners do. However the changeover from the old blue/green merged Japanese to the modern form of color perception is really pretty recent (my guess would be right around the end of WWII), and while the language usually reflects the change, there are many relic words that use “ao” for green still, e.g. “aoba” for “fresh/young green leaves” or the like.

    A good indication of just how recent the shift was is that green traffic lights still get called “ao”, which took me several years to get used to. In fact, I would swear that traffic lights in Japan actually are shaded slightly bluer than traffic lights in America, though, perhaps for this reason– I’d be interested to hear from other Westerners to see if they share my color perception on this.

  96. “Weirdly, I actually don’t think that mandating “no screen time” and similar measures actually changes people’s outlook toward or amount of “derealization”. The only way out of it, IMO, must come from spiritual growth.” -Orion

    Your not wrong, a mandate is insufficient and spiritual growth is the actual cure.

    I just don’t like how much time the “screens” can steal from you if you aren’t paying very close attention, which is why I restrict access to them. To me the “screens” are utterly paralyzing and that frightens me.

  97. Orion wrote, “The main point I make is that the underlying soul/infinite god/unseen/spiritual/universal being is eternal and therefore always the same. Therefore there is no progress or progression along these lines. The only change is in our ability to grasp a portion of the infinite, sometimes more and sometimes less.”

    Would the underlying soul/infinite god/unseen/spiritual/universal being in its eternalness not therefore always be changing as well? Both eternally progressing and staying constant at all times? If it encompasses everything, would it not then encompass progress, regress, stagnancy, perfection, contentment, and striving all in itself?

    I find it easier to connect with that universal life force, god of gods, containing all of us, including the saints, angels, demons, gods, galaxies, and universes, when I can imagine why it would have gone to the trouble to spin out a game as complex and elaborate as it has. Why would it not just sit as an unchanging lump in its own perfection? My best guess as to why it would have bothered to shatter its own completeness into so many tiny pieces is to know and discover itself. It already had existence, but what was it going to do with it — nothing?

    So maybe that perfect universal life force changed itself, altered itself, disrupted itself into all its many complexities in order to spend eternity putting itself back together again — in order to become itself. An endless, striving progress simply to return to its unchanging self. What a magnificent reality that would be to dwell in! Whatever simple, initial pattern the life force laid down would have started everything as we know it and become the nature of all of existence. Each and very thing, being, energy, pattern, etc. would exist, rather lumpishly, until it eventually decided to take itself apart, to explore and discover itself — in order to become itself.

    Everything is already whole and perfect, at one with everything else. If everything ends up disrupting and forgetting that wholeness and perfection in order to explore and discover them anew, then everything would be striving to fully become itself, whole and perfect, at one with the underlying soul/infinite god/unseen/spiritual/universal being in its eternalness. We would all of us be perpetually whole, irredeemably broken, and eternally seeking wholeness in the great mosh pit of life.

    I think I’ll dub that the Humpty Dumpty theory of godhood. All us Humpty Dumpties keep looking around for horses and men to save us, when what we really need is to remember our eternal connection with the divine. What a wonderful, magical game we’ve been invited to play in!

  98. I hadn’t yet commented because Gebser’s thesis rings so obviously false to me (as does Jayne’s) that I found it hard to even think of something useful to say about it. Two literary examples may exemplify why I think Gebser is so wrong.

    William Golding’s The Inheritors takes place during an imaginary first contact between Neanderthals and modern humans. Golding postulates that Neanderthals’ mind (and body) worked quite differently from ours*, but this device just serves to heighten the climactic moment near the end when we suddenly switch to a prehistoric (about 40 000 years ago?) modern human’s mind: an explorer, a poet, a lover, and in no way inferior to any reader of the book.

    João Guimarães Rosa’s collection of seven novellas Corpo de baile is prefaced with seven citations from the philosopher Plotinus and the mystic Ruysbroeck, but the ostensive points of view are those of uncultured inhabitants of the corners of Brazil most distant from modern civilization, roughly in the 1920s or 1930s. Miguilim, the point-of-view character of the first novella, is an illiterate eight-year-old boy, and the text avoids abstract nouns. Yet at one place Miguilim says (my translation, I am not sure if an English one is available):

    “He had faith. Did he even know? Only that the moved from the more-and-more comes altogether down, un-lights and un-draws, in memory; it is made like on the water down in a well-hole. Once he had pulled on God’s coat.” And Miguilim recalls a moment when he almost died.

    These words of an eight-year-old analphabet might be rephrased by Plotinus or Ruysbroeck as:

    “The emanation from the Highest One descends to the lowest sphere, loses its light and its form and transforms into human memory, like the reflection of the Sun on the plane of water in a deep well.”

    Guimarães Rosa clearly implies that a poor unlettered child can have insights as deep as those of a philosopher or mystic. Again, I am much more inclined to agree with Golding or Rosa than with any of the schemes of cognitive evolution we have discussed over the last posts.

    * My reading of the recent literature on Neanderthals doesn’t support him on this point, but maybe an encounter with residual Homo erectus or florensis would serve the same narrative purpose.

  99. Walt, exactly — the comparison hit me like, well, a flying car dropping out of the sky. 😉

    Yorkshire, that’s so typical of today’s America…

    Jessica, fair enough. My stepmother left Japan in 1946 as a child, so that might explain a thing or two.

    Walt, oh, granted. The entire geometrical side of Gebser’s symbolism is a garbled mess.

    Other Owen, maybe that’s what incarnation is — we’re all spiritual beings dressing up in human bodies to party and have sex. Hmm…

    Quin, thanks for this.

    Aldarion, er, neither of those novels was written by the people whose thoughts they’re trying to portray, you know. They were written by highly literate people belonging to Faustian civilization, so their testimony is what a highly literate Faustian person thinks a Neanderthal or a backwoods Brazilian child thinks like…

  100. From what you write about Gebser, I find him somehow more abstract and less interesting than the previous two writers in this series. The idea of an abstract “humanity” progressing through stages is just nonsensical to me at this point; I guess also the two preceding authors had some kind of metaphysical views of their own, however linear they may be, but Gebser seems a complete materialist.

    I know you have issues with David Graeber but I’m reading through his “Dawn of Everything” now and the main thrust of his argument seems so obvious in light of what you say too: human societies had a bewildering array of ways they organised themselves, there were hierarchical, violent hunter-gatherers; peaceful, “egalitarian” proto-agriculturalists; fishing cultures with mass slavery; nut-gathering quasi-“Protestant work ethic” peoples and so on. A lot of the “stage” models of human development are just modern myth projections and trying to generalise from the current modern H-G peoples to ancient H-Gs works as much as trying to generalise modern industrial farming to ancient cereal farming (I.e there are some points of similarity, but so many differences as well).

    Anyway, looking forward to future entries in this series and hope that you will touch on the varieties of consciousness that different cultures have developed.

    On the debate about 青, maybe the other commenters would find a discussion of the history of the Chinese character interesting:

    Basically 青 historically referred to a wide range of hues in the bluish range, from green to the colour of the dusk sky.

  101. @Jessica @Yorkshire

    Excellent points you made! However, the real story about automation is more complex than i detailed. In short, it was immensely costly to produce the first lathe. However, the first lathe helped creating cheaper lathes (and other tools) which were more productive and more precise. In fact, there is a genealogy of how your lathe connects to the first lathe ever built.

    The rate of profit thus falls naturally via automation. There are some ways manufacturers circumvent this, by making similar products at different costs. As a student I worked at an auto manufacturer. They basically had three sets of cars: a beginner model, that was relatively cheap, a so called middle class auto and a high end version. The total costs of production of those version were very similar, the beginner’s version costed about 2000€ less to make than the high end version but of course the price at sale was enormously different.

  102. The Other Owen #98, okay are you deliberately messing with me now – you’ve just done it again! 🙂 Marx said that at the beginning human labour was specific – an action to get a result. Obviously that’s still true now. But when money and wages came along, the concept of labour had to change to make it measurable in the universal metric of money, to calculate wages and prices. So now you get payment for an hour of work, regardless of what that work entailed. It’s a radical mental shift in how work is concieved. It’s part of the process of commodification where any product or service, no matter how different, is reduced to monetary values. The terms Marx uses are concrete labour and abstract labour.

    Marx’s view of labour is also a more substantial ontological claim about humanity and its relationship to nature. That’s why you get books like Engels’ The Role of Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man. Similarly there are modern anthropologists (likely with no connection to Marxism) who claim the invention of cooking altered our evolution. Not needing as strong a jaw meant the skull could be a different shape, and brains could become bigger.

    Beyond that, there have definitely been people in the tradition who’ve elevated labour to the metaphysical. There were Cosmism-influenced Russian socialists who thought it was humanity’s duty to ‘restructure every atom in the universe’. There’s a less extreme esoteric valorisation of labour in the Dust of His Dark Materials and golemetry in Iron Council – ‘matter given purpose by will’.

    While the last category is a minority, my subconscious clearly approves. The only time I tried psychedelics, one hallucination I remember was like watching a BBC4 art documentary. There was an art installation up on the moors that featured massive, rusted machinery partially sunken in the peat. The presenter described it as “these monoliths of primordial labour”.

  103. “maybe that’s what incarnation is — we’re all spiritual beings dressing up in human bodies to party and have sex. Hmm…” But isn’t partying and having sex like “drinking and carousing”?

    This discussion has made me glad that I didn’t spend more time trying to slog through Gebser’s book; what would have been the point? The mental exercise for its own sake? Or maybe just to add to a collection of false maps of consciousness, in the deliberately tedious fashion of Melville’s chapters on “Monstrous Pictures of Whales” and “Less Erroneous Pictures of Whales.”

  104. Yes, of course I am aware these are modern literary products, that is why I wrote “ostensive point of view”. I am not actually trying to prove Gebser wrong – one would need to analyze actual old texts or archaeological artefacts to do that. I am just discussing two literary visions of 20th century writers whom I feel much more comfortable with than with Gebser.

  105. When I read Gebser’s book, the last feeling I had was disenchantment. It is an overwhelming example of original, truly creative speculation covering all aspects of the human condition. If I recall correctly, he said that he had a deep spiritual experience in which the idea for the book came to him all at once. Later in life he traveled to India and joined an ashram for a time, possibly hoping to achieve the next level of consciousness that he seemed to believe was imminent.
    It is curious that Jean Piaget was developing his developmental theory of consciousness around the same time. Also, evolutionary biologist Lynne Margulis came up with her ingenious theory of endosymbiosis which was roundly criticized at the time, but later proven genetically. Their theories tie in with Wilber’s “holarchies” or “transcend – but – include” manner of structural changes in life forms and levels of consciousness..

  106. >Other Owen, maybe that’s what incarnation is — we’re all spiritual beings dressing up in human bodies

    Which makes me wonder further. So are there other higher order beings, looking on and going “Those #@$%@#$ Hoomans are so annoying and offensive! I hope they stay away from here.”


    Alrighty then. I guess Das Kapital is back on the reading list. Although here’s something that I bet you’d never hear from a Marxist – I think the grinding bear market in labor is almost over. If you just look at it like any other market, anyway. It has been going on since the mid-60s, if you look at the charts carefully, and the lords and masters have been very careful to paper it over with inflation, but if you back out all the goalseeking and chicanery, the general rate of labor has been going down, down, down, ever since. Not real fast and not in a straight line, but you can see the trend.

    I’m not quite sure that the worm has really turned just yet, but I think we’re getting close to a turning point.

  107. Alvin @ 104, I read through about half of Dawn of Everything before the library due date came up. I found it fascinating from a story telling and story reading point of view. I truly appreciate the way the authors gathered together anthropological research which usually hides behind paywalls and made it available to a larger public. (One reason the reading public is shrinking is that much of new thought and research is simply not available to us) I don’t know enough about prehistory to be able to evaluate his theories there. However, about slavery, which he nowhere defined in the part of the book I read, I would assert that there is a qualitative difference between people being confined in serf like conditions, bad enough, and the buying and selling of human beings, far worse IMHO. I find myself highly unimpressed by “everyone did it” pleading from anyone, no matter how eminent. IDK about the Far East, but in Europe, North Africa and the ME, the dreadful trade was an equal opportunity enterprise, enthusiastically pursued by pagans, Moslems, Jews and Christians alike.

  108. Alvin, while I have certain disagreements with Graeber, he’s certainly right about the wild diversity of human societies, especially but not only those with a hunter-gatherer (or mostly hunter-gatherer) economy. Thank you for the essay on the Chinese character!

    Phutatorius, Gebser’s strength isn’t in the rather arbitrary abstract framework he presented. It’s in the vivid accounts of specific human experiences and creative works, which he uses to illustrate the framework. The framework’s inaccurate, but the vignettes are still gorgeous!

    Aldarion, so noted. You may not be comfortable with where my exploration is going, then.

    Allison, er, do keep in mind that your feelings aren’t the subject of my discussion — and you may not mean the same thing by the word “enchantment” that I mean…

    Other Owen, one of the more engaging theories about why no extraterrestrial civilization has visited our world yet is the notion that a listening station on Proxima Centauri II picked up a broadcast of My Mother The Car, and the Galactic Gallimaufry discussed the matter and tacked up hyperspace placards all around our system saying “Do not visit — the species that lives here is seriously deranged.”

  109. @ Allison #109

    Interesting that you mention Lynn Margulis, in the context of this post on theories of consciousness, since in her article “The Conscious Cell” she argues that all consciousness is “microbial consciousness” (or its direct evolutionary descendant).

    Although she was a biologist, and, therefore, spoke that discipline’s materialist language of “brain” and “nervous system” when trying to understand consciousness in cells, she also spent her whole career “hanging out” with, and observing, living bacteria in real time, and in the abstract to the above article (quoted below), she also makes reference to “microbial mind”, which, presumably is what she decided she was observing “in action” (and therefore safe to “infer”) when observing her bacterial cultures…

    “ABSTRACT: The evolutionary antecedent of the nervous system is “microbial
    consciousness.” In my description of the origin of the eukaryotic cell via bacterial cell merger, the components fused via symbiogenesis are already “conscious” entities. I have reconstructed an aspect of the origin of the neurotubule
    system by a hypothesis that can be directly tested. The idea is that the system
    of microtubules that became neurotubules has as its origin once-independent
    eubacteria of a very specific kind. Nothing, I claim, has ever been lost without
    a trace in evolution. The remains of the evolutionary process, the sequence that
    occurred that produced Cajal’s neuron and other cells, live today. By study of
    obscure protists that we take to be extant decendants of steps in the evolution
    of cells, we reconstruct the past directly from living organisms. Even remnants
    of “microbial mind” can be inferred from behaviors of thriving microorganisms. All of the eukaryotes, not just lichens or an animal’s neurons, are products of symbiogenesis among formerly free-living bacteria, some highly motile.
    Eukaryotes have evolved by the inheritance of acquired genomes; they have
    gained all their new features by ingesting and not digesting whole bacterial
    cells with complete genomes.”

    Personally, I quite like to view consciousness as a faculty/experience that connects me to (rather than distinguishes me from) everything else in the universe, which is why I’ve long been a fan of Margulis’s… 😉

  110. @Scotlyn,

    Did you know that Margulis was married to Carl Sagan in the late 50’s-early 60’s? Dorion Sagan is their son, and quite an interesting thinker/author in his own right.

  111. R.J Stewart’s work, The Underworld Initiation, I think is an interesting compliment to this stream of articles. I have not finished this book and am currently still reading it, however I enjoy Stewart’s firm stance on this topic; linear evolution of consciousness. He targets modern (1982) Psychology and lamemts the shallowness of this science in relation to the collective power of previous oral traditions connected directly into a human-earth integrated conciousness before widespread literacy.

    Stewart is invested in a kind of quality of human conciousness that has been borne out of (using the shared charts categories) 50,000 years of ‘indegenous attitude of development.’ Centering in on this conceptual category, ‘indigenous attitude’, and arguing this stage was the pinnacle of human conciousness could be done using Stewarts analysis. Though Stewart seems to be a magician of sorts,and they are not known for empirical data analysis, I feel it might be possible to zero in on any of these stages of conciousness and point out how descriptors from all categories are present regardless of the time period.

    This color chart is maybe a product of a student studying the popular french sociological theorists. I am kind surprised that no one broke it into class categories in relation to conciousness, from prison inmate, working class to middle, to highly educated professionals and elites…

    Anyway, Stewart shares a fascinating add on to the underworld intitiation in his appendix 1 “tomb of a king”. This ancient king goes through a powerful ritual of ‘Archaic’ self sacrifice to comply with ‘Traditional’ values. He goes through a ritual involving the tribe’s current undertanding of ‘Modern’ science (some kind of cutting edge dolmen tech) wherein his conciousness jumps all proceeding categories i see in the color chart and integrates into an underworld/outerworld connection with the Earth and solar system. This potential ‘post post integration’ category, or perhaps, ‘primordial integration’ I guess is not conceptualized by Gebser and associates. Stewart might indicate they are struggling to recognize the fluidity and range of conciousness or “attitudes of development” within human societies across the historical board. Is it that these thinkers are limited by Faustian boundaries and so unable to integrate the conceptual framework of the underworld into their theories and charts without bias; human conciousness presented as only capable of integrating previous matrixes of conciousness upwards towards some utopian collective.

    Purely Archaic conciousness, if something like that ever truly existed, would be an anomaly, with nothing before it to integrate, and so every individual potentially being a kind of prehistorical psychonaut.

    This would be a fertile world for aspiring authors to build stories inside of. Archaic could be a categeoy of conciousness that soothes the specter of the apocolypse narrative in North America. It represents wiping the slate completely clean to start again which is appealing to a culture within the throes of the long descent.

    Apologies for the long post- These articles are exercising the old brain lol.

  112. Straw in the wind – “The Machine Stops” level of dependency. Uncomfortably scary.

    Yesterday all day I kept getting “unable to find a connection” on my computer, and a neighbor and I did a lot of troubleshooting. It turned out, Cox Communications was having problems. Imagine my panic, especially since Cox’s last message to me the day before was that they’ve moved my bills from print to digital – but I can request paper bills by going through the Cox App. Which of course was unavailable yesterday. How it feels? Like a baby whose bottle is suddenly unavailable for no reason and nobody know for how long…. and I try to minimize my dependence on this machine as much as possible for things that must be dealt with.

  113. Scotlyn:

    I love this! And it makes sense to me! The interconnected web of life indeed! The Universal Being!

    And what percentage of our body is our biome?


  114. Bei Dawei, perhaps not that guy, but there was a New Age woman wandering around Paganicon once, who buttonholed me (after a workshop on galdr, of all things) to talk about her wonderful psychic guru who’d helped her cope with several abductions by aliens; she’s probably part of that by now. The more I listened to her the sorrier I felt for her–and her husband–and I wanted *so* badly to say “Forget that nonsense, you’re using it to cope with the fact your marriage is falling apart. Either go to counseling or get a divorce.” I probably should have, but I console myself with the idea that she wouldn’t have listened.

  115. @jmg I certainly didn’t mean to diminish your level of consciousness. I respect all levels and their intersections. I myself am an animist (feeling an intense connection with all all animal//vegetation) in many respects. But I respect that levels above mine more truly reflect the reality of the universe we currently inhabit. Do I feel that diminishes my feelings? Hell no! I know what I know on the level I am. Could it be incorporated into another level about which I am unknowing? Could be, but mine is part of it and always will be! Because the mitochondria is a product of bacteria does not deny the existence for formative experience of bacteria.

  116. Michael Witzel, in his book The Origins of the World’s Mythologies, points out that Chauvet Cave, which has some of the world’s earliest known cave art, includes paintings that have been dated to 32,000 BC which make use of perspective.

  117. Ian, it’s an excellent book! I worked through the complete set of practical exercises in it twice, with a decade in between, with very good results. “The Tomb of a King” is an essay I’ve cited repeatedly in my books, too. I hadn’t thought of going back over it with an eye toward his take on the evolution of consciousness, but that’s worth considering.

    Patricia M, get used to it. The internet is fantastically expensive to maintain, and requires constant inputs of resources, some of which are running short. Downshifting from digital to paper bills is worth considering.

    Allison, why must you categorize other modes of consciousness as “above” or “below” yours? So linear and arbitrary a scheme, which privileges some states of consciousness over others, strikes me as hopelessly inadequate as a reflection of the vast multidimensional capacity of consciousness.

    Platypus, fascinating. Did he mention what kind of perspective? There are several — the linear perspective that dominates classic Faustian art is only one. (BTW, please save discussions of wholly off topic subjects for the open post!)

    Orion, thanks for this.

  118. re: self driving cars

    I find it amusing that the gubmint bureaucrats are all SAFETY SAFETY SAFETY when it comes to rollover protection, etc. Did you know that cars are about twice as heavy as in the old days? They have to be because of all the safety mandates. It’s also why all cars look the same too – safety mandates.

    But a self-driving car hitting pedestrians or causing accidents running into emergency services? Oh no, we can’t be too hasty there, that’s Progress(tm). People are complaining but the complaints fall on deaf ears as they foot drag. Me, I find the hypocrisy amusing, although if you get hit by one of these robodrivers, it’s probably not nearly as funny.

    In aerospace, they learned some pretty hard smoking-hole-in-the-ground type lessons when it came to automation. If you automate too much but require the crew to monitor the system anyway, their attention will start to drift, they can’t help it, it’s just how we’re wired. At some point the inattention will cause a smoking hole. So they backed off on it and figured out what’s the amount that still keeps the crew engaged with what they’re doing.

  119. I wonder if some of these thinkers are placing too much emphasis on conscious ness rather than just being. Dasein plus type being ?

    Consciousness by its nature implies a subject-object relation, perhaps Heidegger was trying to work around this without lapsing into poetry?

    Perhaps Gebser himself was trying to elucidate this ? (Badly)

    Any ‘aperspectival irruption’ is going to be dfficult to put into words. Perhaps this is what neurologist Iain McGilchrist is trying to talk about with his left-right brain analogy?

  120. @AliceEm,

    Thank you for the link to the meditation on structure of time. It definitely has inspired some more topics of meditation for me.

    Interestingly, my school district is in the process of transitioning from a traditional school calendar (summers off, a hat nod to when children still were needed to work on the family farm) to year round, with occasional brief holidays throughout the year.

  121. Does anyone know if similar thoughts on stages of conciousness have cropped up in other cultures? Do people in “red” write about it when they’re not involved in gang warfare?
    As an aside, I am unable to also find “woke” criticism from people who ain’t white, or men. The “stages of conciousness” thing smells similar.

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